McMurtry Alone, Dealing Aces
Friends, Thursday at Shank Hall in Brew Town James McMurtry was dealin’, alone, with nothin’ but a 12-string guitar, which surprisingly stacked the deck for a show that turned four aces, period. He’s so skilled fingerstyle — playing bass accompaniment to his typically deft configurations — that I never missed his band. The Heartless Bastards. No wonder they didn’t show for this frigid tour.
At times, the 12 string’s shining harmonic resonances at a fast-chugging tempo sounded like a chrome-plated locomotive at full speed. Throw in a few taut ‘n’ tasty solos — best 12-string playing this side of Jorma Kaukonen (oh-oh, here come the guitar freaks).
He sang plenty of his great songs, Choctaw Bingo, No More Buffalo, You’d a Thought (Leonard Cohen…), Ruby and Carlos, Holiday, We Can’t Make It Here, Hurricane Party, and it was sweet being ten feet away. James appeared uncommonly focused in performance, yet affable and chatty between songs.
Being alone seemed to bring out more passion in his singing; no band matters to fret, perhaps. So his burning lyrics sizzled on his tongue. And few lyrics burn like James’ – keepin’ the light alive for the downtrodden and keeping the feet of the powerful to the flame. And yet an evocative song like Saint Mary of the Woods worked beautifully as well. He’s got a new one that cooks like spittin’ grease but I didn’t catch the title.
Yet on some songs, like Holiday, he preferred terseness — no ingratiating whole notes on the title refrain. He probably had lousy holidays, suffering motel Santas and all the crooked tinsel and cranky kids that go with that. “I’m a taciturn person,” he said, tuning his 12-string meticulously.
He lets his songs do the talking. Enough said.
Still, the crowd went wild when he came to the Holiday line: “How ’bout those Packers?”
Stunned, he mumbled, “Forgot where I was.”
Peter Best, the Milwaukee booker, says McMurtry told him he wants to bring his band back here.
The crowd, crazy in love, persuaded him, I’m sure.
p.s. How ’bout those Packers?