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James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards – Live in O3

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James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards

Audio CD (March 23, 2004)
Label: Compadre Records

Hell, I’d buy it just because of the name of the band…

James McMurtry is one of Texas’ finest singer/songwriters, but among the uninitiated, he’s usually referred to as “the son of Larry McMurtry” (author of “Lonesome Dove” and what seems like a few million other classic western novels) — but to true-blue Texas fans of Americana, the famous author is often referred to as the “father of James McMurtry”.

And like his more famous father, James is primarily a storyteller; his lyrics are brilliant short stories, funny, personal, profound, and always heartfelt; they conjure images of hot, empty landscapes of West Texas, road trips, fights with girlfriends, and an unsentimental nostalgia that always carries an underlying air of loss, loneliness, and suppressed bitterness — imagine Ernest Hemingway with a guitar, a beer, and a backup band.

McMurtry is no optimist; he’s a romantic realist, calls Life as he sees it, and yet every story is tinged with a touch of humor that never allows him to take things too seriously. His songs can be self-deprecating, self-aware, or unabashed confessions of worries and weaknesses. At the heart of it all, McMurtry is true to himself — at all costs. (Which is probably why he remains relatively unknown, since he values musical and lyrical integrity over popular appeal.)

And to anyone who’s ever seen and heard McMurtry live, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he and his band can rock their asses off; they raise the roof on small, smokey honky-tonks across the Lone Star State with a simple combination of a nasty, gritty guitar, a thumping bass, and hard-driving drums.

McMurtry’s studio work has always seemed to downplay the fact that the guy is really a great guitarist — sort of in the rhythmic mode of Keith Richards or Neil Young. This live recording allows his guitar talent to shine through more than any of his albums from the past; the electric charge the band gets from a rowdy, raunchy Texas audience tanked up on Shiner Bock and testosterone only helps to fuel the fire.

If you’ve never heard McMurtry — especially live while he rocks through one of his wonderful ‘short stories’, this is the collection for you. After exposure to this little-known genius, you’ll be buying up his entire studio catalog — and maybe thinking it’s time to climb in your truck for a long road trip through the windy, dusty West Texas desert.

Put on your shades, toss in this CD, and pop a’ top for Sharko.

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About Mark Shark

  • A friend of mine recently loaned me “Where’d you hide the body” and it’s been all I’ve been listening to lately. I just might give the live album a listen- thanks for the review Shark.

  • Eric Olsen

    I’ve always loved the guy despite of his father. Very nice review, thanks!

  • Chris Kent


    Great review on an immensely talented songwriter/performer. I saw James McMurtry several times when I lived in Austin, though have not seen him in several years. Back then, he was a man, a guitar and a microphone. He had a CD that received extensive airplay in Austin back in the 1990s, I believed it was produced by John Mellencamp? Anyway, he performed just last Saturday here in Dallas at Sons of Hermann Hall, just a couple of blocks from my pad. You should have called me. I would have walked down the street and bought you a beer……

  • Shark

    Chris, DAMN!

    I’m sorry I missed that one.

    I saw McMurtry at the now-extinct, legendary Caravan of Dreams right before it closed.

    Great night, great band, great ambiance.

    Rain check on the beer, though, amigo.