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Country Fried Rock: James McMurtry Interview

Some people label James McMurtry a political songwriter; in his view, he's just an observer.

Back in 2012, we spoke with James McMurtry about his live album and new songs in the works. The legendary Texas songwriter moves slowly, until he pounces like a leopard, both in song and repartee. McMurtry just released the album containing those aforementioned new songs, Complicated Game.

Some songwriters craft tunes with the intent of making social commentary, but rarely do those same songs last through two presidencies and manage to incite emotion from both sides of the political aisle. Such is the case for McMurtry, who observes what he sees, but does not claim control of where his songs may go for listeners. “People are listening for themselves in popular songs,” he says, which is why his lyrics speak to human situations that do not neatly fall into the boxes of “Left” or “Right”. People are much more complicated than that.

Many performers can relate to McMurtry’s years playing Jimmy Buffett cover tunes to placate a bar owner, while slipping in an original song just rarely enough to keep eyebrows from raising. James is not afraid of ruffling feathers, even of his existing fans, as long as the lyric honestly portrays what he sees. From irate email from loyal Texas fans, to adoring crowds in Bangor, Maine (more on that in the podcast below), his music stretches from Southern rock and folk to Americana, incorporating diverse and dedicated audiences. McMurtry has endured long enough to have multi-generational crowds, where he is the thing that binds parents and children together in music.

For all the weightiness of some of James McMurtry’s songs, he does not describe himself as a “political songwriter.” While he acknowledges how others may categorize him that way based on a small subset of his music, overall, he defines himself more as an observer. McMurtry’s next record is not written yet, but he anticipates his first set of more personal songs, because he has “run out of everything else to write about.”

In his 8 out of 10 review of Complicated Game, Mark Allister writes, “McMurtry has become a mainstay at the Americana Music Association’s awards show with Childish Things (2005) winning best Americana album and Just Us Kids (2008) being nominated. The new album doesn’t have the political commentary that we saw on those two, but it’s likely we’re going to see Complicated Game on the nominee list come next year. It’s that good.”

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