James McMurtry grew up in a literary household, so it is no surprise that his music contains some of the most clever and poignant lyrics you will ever hear. McMurtry's father, Larry McMurtry, wrote dozens of novels, including his 1985 Pulitzer Prize winner "Lonesome Dove." Son James channeled that creativity into songwriting.
The Austin-based singer-songwriter performed Saturday evening in front of a sold-out crowd at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
The evening began with Betty Soo, another singer-songwriter from Austin, whose voice, music, and emotion won over the audience. Soo accompanied herself solo on guitar for most of the set but was joined for the last few songs by McMurtry's guitarist and drummer. The pace of the music changed from reflective to rocking when the solo became a trio.
After a short break, the players returned to the stage, led by McMurtry, who played for over 90 minutes of high-quality music. He did not talk much and never smiled, but his songs pleased the audience.
"Canola Fields" paints a picture as a man drives across southern Alberta and is reminded of a lost love when he sees canola fields ("About the same chartreuse as that '69 Bug you used to drive around San Jose.")
"Childish Things" is told from the perspective of a middle-aged man lamenting his childhood life.
His song "Choctaw Bingo" tells the story of a dysfunctional family heading from various places around the country to visit eccentric Uncle Slayton in Oklahoma ("You know he had to leave Texas, but he won't say why"). He introduced this song, calling it "a medley of our hit," but this was tongue in cheek as McMurtry has never had much commercial success. But audiences still flock to see him because he has a gift for captivating the listener.
He does not talk much, but he speaks volumes through his music.