He packs his story-songs with novelistic detail and observations about fascinatingly ordinary people and fantastic fringe characters. It may or may not be a genetic gift: He’s the son of the famous writer Larry McMurtry. His lyrics focus on broken dreams and hard realities.
Whatever he is – bard in a bar band, songwriters’ songwriter…hell, writers’ writer –McMurtry has crafted a handful of albums over the past decade that reveal a tough, sensitive observer with great subtlety. Just Us Kids artfully mixes provocative portraits with political screeds, including the Bush-bashing “Cheney’s Toy” – this after 2005’s Childish Things was named Album of the Year at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards. McMurtry’s protest anthem, “We Can’t Make It Here,” also was named Song of the Year.
Critical acclaim is nothing new for the roots-rock artist, whose first album, 1989’s Too Long in the Wasteland, was hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the year’s best debuts. Now eight albums and 20 years into his career as a critical darling, his fanbase is suddenly swelling. We assume that it was a help that McMurtry’s father is a Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist (Lonesome Dove) and Oscar-winning screenwriter (Brokeback Mountain). His mother Josephine recently retired as an English Literature professor at the University of Richmond.
He bailed on college many moons ago and landed back in Texas, working as a housepainter and bartender. A few years later, his father was working on a film project with John Mellencamp and passed along a cassette containing some of his son’s songs. Mellencamp helped McMurtry land a deal with Columbia and produced his 1989 debut. Then came the early acclaim, a series of business-side disappointments and now, the recognition that seems to have been sparked by the scathing “We Can’t Make It Here,” posted online shortly before the 2004 presidential election.
Tickets are $25. For info call (518) 828-4800 or visit www.helsinkihudson.com.