James Talley | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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James Talley hit Nashville in 1968, armed with a fine arts degree from the University of New Mexico and an unshakable belief that he somehow personified the romantic populist spirit of country music. In 1975 Capitol picked up the Oklahoma native's self-released Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, but We Sure Got a Lot of Love, and the following year his Tryin' Like the Devil got rave reviews. With characteristic chutzpah he mailed a copy to presidential candidate Jimmy Carter--who invited him to play at the 1977 inaugural ball. The good times didn't last, though, and Talley left Capitol, searching for a better deal elsewhere. In the mid-80s he settled for a job in real estate, but continued to perform and record part-time. Several subsequent albums on a German label failed to generate much momentum, and in the late 90s he went back to putting out his own records, this time through his online Cimarron imprint. Though Talley sometimes seems like the prototypical unappreciated genius, doomed to obscurity by the incompetence and venality of the music industry, even his staunchest supporters admit that his self-importance has hurt him too (it doesn't help when he compares himself to van Gogh). But whatever the man's self-image, the forthcoming Journey (recorded live in Italy in 2002) makes a strong case for his talent: his pliant tenor and Okie drawl recall both Willie Nelson and Woody Guthrie, and the material ranges from vintage jamboree high jinks ("W. Lee O'Daniel and the Light Crust Dough Boys") and honky-tonk laments ("Sometimes I Think About Suzanne") to his trademark populist odes ("Tryin' Like the Devil," "We're All One Family"). Switchback and Scott Momenthy open. $10. Saturday, May 29, 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212.

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