My recent post about Larry McMurtry didn’t even mention his noted songwriter son. That was deliberate, and easy enough to do since Larry left more than enough of a legacy long ago. But his son, James McMurtry, is carving out his own legacy in song, a legacy stretching back more than 30 years — so far.
Pretty sure the first time I saw James was when he played the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1987 as one of the finalists in the New Folk songwriting contest. I bought his debut release, Too Long in the Wasteland, as soon as it came out in 1989. By the time he played at the 1990 Austin Music Awards, both on his own and as part of Nanci Griffith’s band, he was already well-noted for his biting insight and lyrical storytelling style. Pretty doggoned amazing guitarist as well. He’s been writing, recording, and releasing music steadily every since.
But rather than read about James, better you should give a listen to some of his songs. These are some of my favorites, obviously, and leans heavily on a lot of his earlier work. But with a baker’s dozen of his albums out there, there are plenty more gems he’s gifted us, in addition all these tunes. Hope this little taste tantalizes you enough to get you listening to more.
Painting By Numbers
You’re painting by numbers, connecting the dots
You work from the neck-down as often as not
You jump when they say, “Jump!” and you don’t ask, “How high?”
‘Cause painting by numbers you know you’ll get by.
Too Long in the Wasteland
Well, I hadn’t intended to bend the rules,
But whiskey don’t make liars,
It just makes fools.
So I didn’t mean to say it —
But I meant what I said…
Too long in the wasteland,
Too long in the wasteland
Musta gone to my head.
I’m Not From Here
They say I shoulda been here,
back about ten years,
Before it got ruint
By folks like me.
Johnny’s all right,
He just turned out his light.
They’d’ve paid him no mind
Had he not been so bright.
Lost in the Backyard
The facts of the matter
Most likely will always remain
And I guess I’ll be lost in the back yard
Till I get home again.
And I can’t grow up —
I’m much too old now.
Guess I really did it this time, Ma.
Jaws of Life
Caught in the jaws of life,
Found myself chewed up like everyone else
It made no difference what I thought
And who I was I still got caught
In the jaws of life.
Walk Between the Raindrops
You’re at that age and you know it all
And you’re not even hearing what I say.
Knowing better never kept me out of trouble —
I don’t care, I’m gonna tell you anyway!
Strap them kids in,
Give ’em a little bit of vodka,
In a cherry coke,
We’re going to Oklahoma
To the family reunion
For the first time in years —
It’s up at Uncle Slayton’s
’cause he’s getting on in years.
You know, he no longer travels,
But he’s still pretty spry
He’s not much on talking —
He’s just too mean to die.
Just Us Kids
Just us kids hanging out today,
Watching our long hair turning gray…
Not so skinny, maybe not so free —
Not so many as we used to be.
James has been doing weekly livestreams (Wednesdays at 8pm, Sundays at 1pm, both CST) during this pandemic. Once the clubs fully open back up, he’ll be back at Austin’s famous Continental Club weekly as well, usually an acoustic show in the Continental Club Gallery on Tuesday evenings but the full rocking band every Wednesday at midnight.
By the way — just as Larry McMurtry raised an outstanding songwriter in James, so James’s son, Curtis McMurtry, looks to carry on the line of literary and lyrical McMurtrys writing the stories of our times — through 3 generations!