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Music Review: James McMurtry – Live In Europe CD/DVD

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"I didn't mean to say it. But I meant what I said," reveals James McMurtry during his memorable performance of “Too Long In The Wasteland” recorded live at the Paridiso, Amsterdam.

In many ways, this almost throwaway line seems to sum up the musical integrity that the Texas musician possesses by the load. His music powerfully draws you in and keeps you hanging on his every word. It highlights his sometimes fearless honesty, and his ability to confront the realities of life headlong. He says what he means, and to hell with the consequences.

James’s father is, of course, the renowned novelist Larry McMurtry of The Last Picture Show and Terms Of Endearment fame. It clearly runs in the blood. James has inherited much of that skill and is a wordsmith who is also able to paint vivid scenes of real life.  He writes with often caustic, barbed, jaundiced and yet disturbingly accurate words that boldly say what we are very often thinking.

The first track, “Choctaw Bingo,” on the DVD section of this double disc Live In Europe release, is, in my view, a prime case in point. It is a near ten minutes of musical brilliance that breathes real life into every single line. He somehow makes every character come straight out of the song and head directly at you. They occupy your space while taking you to places that are painted as vividly as if you were really traveling through them.

There is a vibrant authenticity to his songs and maybe the DVD included here is as good a place as anywhere to get into James McMurtry. Surrounded by the quality playing of Ronnie Johnson on bass, Tim Holt on guitar, and Darren Hess on drums, James lets his words paint the pictures while he walks you through the gallery of characters and scenes he creates.

Fellow Austin legend Ian McLagan (Small Faces, The Faces, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and just about anyone else that matters) adds splashes of color and class to the proceedings with his swirling Hammond and expert honky tonk keys.

To complete the scene James then introduces a clearly Amsterdammed Jon Dee Graham for the track “Laredo.” Graham begins by returning some "compliments" from an Amsterdam critic present in the audience before launching into a positively wired, no holds barred section. His point is most definitely made.

The DVD also includes sensational versions of “You’d A’ Thought ( Leonard Cohen Must Die).” This is a definite mantra for all of us who shamble through life’s revolving door of mistakes. “Freeway View” makes an effective appearance enhanced by Mac’s trademark bar room keys. However, nothing prepares you for “We Can’t Make It Here.”

Anyone who has seen McMurtry live over the last couple of years will know this razor sharp track that tackles the hopeless, helpless spiral of desperation and degradation often witnessed on the streets of today. He unleashes his venomous indictment with a cutting edge that not many can hope to come close to.

The DVD set ends with a stompingly effective “Too Long In The Wasteland.” The film is so good that I haven’t even mentioned the CD part of the set. Needless to say, it delivers another 41 minutes of sheer quality. While lacking the visual impact of the DVD, it mercilessly locks you in and spits you out with songs like “Bayou Torture” and “Just As Kids.”

“Hurricane Party,” “Ruby And Carlos,” “Fraulein O.,” and “Restless” all make memorable appearances. It is a set that, having watched the DVD or seen him play live, you can visualize as strongly as if you were actually part of the audience itself.

The result is dangerous for someone already maxed out on credit cards. I find myself frantically searching out the missing gaps in my McMurtry collection while resisting an overwhelming desire to fly out to Austin and visit this haven of hot music.

“I didn’t mean to say it, but I meant what I said.” Well thankfully James follows his bloodline, inherits the desire, and delivers well crafted words with real bite.

I can only imagine how a certain ex-President would feel if he listened to “We Can’t Make It Here.” Then again, as the song says, he wouldn’t, would he? It leaves McMurtry laying down the challenge with, “Get outta of that limo, look us in the eye, call us on the cellphone and tell us all why.”

James McMurtry is bringing his message to Europe and guess what? Yes, he means what he says.

For more details and dates visit either his official website of his MySpace page.

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