James L. McMurtry, along with his Austin-based band, James McMurtry & The Heartless Bastards, is a self-described "rock & roots" guitarist and singer-songwriter, drawing on elements of alt-country, folk and old-fashioned texas rock.
The son of novelist Larry McMurtry, James was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1962, and grew up in Virginia. James McMurtry's seventh studio album, Childish Things, was released on Compadre Records in the fall of 2005. As writer L.E.Brady notes, "The album includes McMurtry's statement on American decline - We Can't Make It Here - his most unabashedly political number yet."
Just Us Kids- released in 2008, is McMurtry's ninth full-length album. While he insists that "the majority of the songs are not political," it's also clear that he's not even close to abandoning his burgeoning role as a searing political gadfly. The core band throughout is McMurtry on guitar, his longtime road band The Heartless Bastards (bassist Ronnie Johnson and drummer Daren Hess) and "guest Bastard" Ian McLagan (The Faces) on keys.
So, roll over Kate Smith - this "God Bless America (pat mAcdonald Must Die)" bears no resemblance to the ubiquitous Irving Berlin chest-thumper; it's a scorched-earth cataloging of the old-boys' club glad-handing, cronyism and "belly up to the trough" feeding-frenzy of corporate and state war profiteers. "Cheney's Toy" juxtaposes the Hollywood hubris of the Bush administration against images of Guantanamo and a brain-damaged U.S. veteran. "The Governor" probes the roles of class and wealth in the solving and prosecution of crimes, and "Ruins of the Realm" sorts through the fallout and detritus of a cynical, unilateral approach to global "mapping."
"Ruby and Carlos" looks at a relationship eroded by miscommunication and conflicting ambitions (with Gulf War Syndrome further roiling the waters). Ruby and Carlos aren't doomed by a single fatal flaw; instead, their love is exhausted by a series of minor disconnects, finally dying the death of a thousand cuts. "Fire Line Road" looks at incest and meth addiction as the normal, everyday, ghastly horrors that they are - exposing some of the ugliest dirt we've always swept under our societal rug.
"Freeway View" is a honking, breakaway rock 'n' roller propelled by Ian McLagan's dazzling ivory-tickling while, according to James, the Dylanesque "Hurricane Party" inhabits "an old man cussing himself for what he misses and what he missed, occasionally noticing what's happening now - it's a reminiscence at the end of the world."
The moving set-closer "You'd a' Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)" imbues its tale of a couple strained by individual weaknesses and stubborn old habits with a generosity of spirit and wry resignation. McMurtry says the parenthetical tag is there because "the lyrics kinda reminded me of a Cohen song, and I was still writing it while we were supposed to be recording it, and it just went on and on. So when I finally came up with it, I said "If it wasn't for Leonard Cohen, you wouldn't have had to spend half the day waiting on me.'"
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James McMurtry (born March 18, 1962 in Fort Worth, Texas) is a Texas rock and Americana music singer, songwriter, guitarist, bandleader and occasional actor (Daisy Miller, Lonesome Dove). With his veteran bandmates and rhythm section The Heartless Bastards (Darren Hess and Ronnie Johnson) he tours regions of the United States and, increasingly, Europe, for parts of each year, performing in intimate and mid-sized venues, especially those with dancing room for his audiences.
His father, novelist Larry McMurtry, gave him his first guitar at age seven. His mother, an English professor, taught him how to play it: "My mother taught me three chords and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people."