"James McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation."
"James McMurtry writes songs filled with characters so real that you're sure they're going to climb out of the speakers and look you in the eyes."
-Voice of America
James McMurtry was born in Texas and has long been associated with that state, and for good reason. His first professional exposure came in 1987 when a friend encouraged him to enter the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk songwriter contest, where he became one of six winners. Around this same time, John Mellencamp was starring in a film, Falling From Grace, based on a script by his father, the acclaimed novelist Larry McMurtry. The son seized this opportunity by sending Mellencamp a demo of his work. Impressed, Mellencamp became co-producer of McMurtry’s critically acclaimed debut album, Too Long in the Wasteland. McMurtry also appeared in the film as part of a band which featured Mellencamp, John Prine, Joe Ely, and Dwight Yoakam.
After this auspicious start, a Grammy nomination and five more albums followed, including long-player St. Mary in the Woods, which features one of McMurtry’s most popular songs, “Choctaw Bingo”. Taking a three-year break, in 2005 he released his seventh album, Childish Things, which went on to win Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, with “We Can’t Make It Here” also capturing their Song of the Year award. In 2010, famed music critic Robert Christgau ranked “We Can’t Make It Here” as the best song of the decade.
Garnering the above accolades, and more than 30 years after his debut, McMurtry has become what’s known as a songwriter’s songwriter, someone whose facility with words and influence on other artists far outstrips his mainstream notoriety and album sales. Much like his late father, James is a fiction writer rather than a confessionalist. He just so happens to choose heartland rock as the vehicle for his tales of Americans at their lowest, searching for a fast buck, a little salvation, or maybe just a quiet moment to get their hearts in order. He crams his songs full of vivid details, the kind that many other writers might not even think up but that create a sense of a larger world outside the song.
And now, after another long break, comes The Horses and the Hounds, released on genre-defining Americana record label New West Records. McMurtry again hones in on his favorite subjects, with hardscrabble songs about good people at bad extremes, the disintegration of small towns in flyover America, and the corruption of corporations during times of war. McMurtry sounds even more engaged here, more focused, and more generous to his hard-luck characters.
The Muncie Three Trails Music Series is proud to have James McMurtry and his band, Ronnie Johnson, Darren Hess, and Tim Holt, grace the Canan Commons stage.