James McMurtry | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

James McMurtry


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


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.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →