James McMurtry | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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James McMurtry

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Like his father, author Larry, singer-songwriter James McMurtry brings a high-art sensibility to his portraits of common folk: the more prosaic the scene or downtrodden the characters, the more elegant his lyrics. It's a good thing he has that talent, because too often his music is full of middle-of-the-road Mellencampisms--not quite rock 'n' roll or country, and despite the occasional Cajun squeeze-box-and-fiddle arrangements, not very southern either. On the new Childish Things (Compadre), he alternates between bittersweet ruminations on a rural upbringing ("See the Elephant," "Memorial Day") and harrowing dispatches from cow towns in economic and moral decline. McMurtry's at his most ambitious on the politically charged "We Can't Make It Here": over a lurching cadence that echoes Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio," he unleashes a barrage of stark images of hopelessness, like Vietnam vets begging for spare change, pallets piled on an abandoned loading dock, and a downtown street empty except for "a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere." His voice tightening into a bilious rasp, he snarls "I hate the men sent the jobs away. . . . Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed" as a maelstrom of guitars swirls around him. Bunkertown opens. Fri 9/16, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $15.

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