If you are in Austin on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you have a good chance of seeing James McMurtry at the Continental Club – either solo or with his band, The Heartless Bastards. Whichever version you choose, you will have a great time with one of the best contemporary American storytellers.
I have seen Jams McMurtry many times when I have been in Austin, sometimes at the cozy, intimate gallery at the Continental Club, and sometimes with his full band, either in the club, at Antone’s or at the Saxon Pub. He has an uncanny ability to draw you into his songs, which are sometimes closer to short stories that pure rock lyrics.
The son of novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain) and a mother who is a professor in English, he grew up in a climate where language and writing literature was an everyday activity. He started playing the guitar at 7, and started performing in his teens. It became more serious when he went to the university, and after a while he moved back to his birth place in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1988 James McMurtry released his first CD, Too Long In The Wasteland, which made it to number 125 on the charts. The same year he also appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Falling From Grace with fellow artists John Prine, Joe Ely, Dwigt Yokam and John Melencamp. During the 90s and the first half of the next decade he released albums that didn’t sell much, but he established himself as a modern Americana artist.
The critical breakthrough came with the album Childish Things in 2005, which won him the song and album of the year at the 5th annual Americana Award. The song We Can’t Make It Here was ranked the best song of the 2000’s by rock critic Robert Christgau.
James McMurtry’s musical style is in the tradition from Woody Guthrie through Bob Dylan, but with much more political lyrics than Dylan. At the same time, his band, The Heartless Bastards, are grunchy and rocky, and both his solo and his band would be a certain hit at festivals and venues in Norway and the rest of Europe. He lives in Austin, Texas.