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McMurtry weaves a beautiful tapestry of sound

James McMurtry / Dana Erlandson
Shank Hall
Milwaukee, WI
March 29, 2012
James McMurtry James McMurtry James McMurtry

Story and photos by Jennifer Bronenkant

Weaving his tales through his music, James McMurtry took the crowd at Shank Hall on an emotion filled journey through the collective experience of American lives. His finely crafted lyrics paint vivid scenery that bring stories of our modern existence to life in a way that makes listening almost a visual experience.

McMurtry, 50, inherited his gift for literary writing from his renowned father author Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment, and his mother English professor Jo Scott McMurtry. He got his first guitar at age 7 as a gift from his father and his mother taught him his first few chords. His music career blossomed with his first album in the late 1980's and he has spent the time since in Austin, Texas developing into one of the best writers in music today.

For this Milwaukee appearance, McMurtry left his band behind in Austin and performed solo bringing along only two acoustic guitars. Wearing a familiar uniform, Cuban shirt and jeans with a fedora on his head, McMurtry pulled off a show that was much bigger than one man and a guitar should be, especially when he was playing his 12 string. Coaxing an unexpectedly large sound out of his guitar, he captivated the audience out of the present reality and immersed them into another world in the way a great novel can.

While rather aloof in personality, McMurtry communicates deeply and openly in his music. His lines "Listen close I'll tell you how I feel. Listen close so I'll talk slow. I always keep it real." from "How Am I Gonna Find You Now" pretty much sums it up.

Opening with "Down Across The Delaware" followed by "Red Dress", he worked his way through many of his classic songs. A few numbers after performing "You'd a' thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)" he told the audience that ironically he'd been asked to sing at an upcoming Cohen tribute in Canada before he performed Cohen's own "Closing Time." "Choctaw Bingo" is a great example of McMurtry's story telling skills as he weaves together the stories of members of a family on their way to a reunion. In this song he says "We're gonna have us a time" and on this intimate night with just the man and his music, we had a time.

Opening act Green Bay native Dana Erlandson won over the audience easily with his warm personality, humor and of course his music. This folk rock/Americana artist's original songs were upbeat and enjoyable to listen to. His bluesy number "Illinois Plates," making fun of our visitors from the south, was a big hit with the crowd. In addition to his own songs, he added Jerry Jeff Walker's version of Guy Clark's "LA Freeway" to the set.

Milwaukee Set list:
Down Across The Delaware
Red Dress
Rachel's Song
Hurricane Party
You'd a' Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)
Choctaw Bingo
No More Buffalo
Ruby and Carlos
How Am I Gonna Find You Now
Closing Time
Charlemagne's Home Town
We Can't Make it Here
Peter Pan
James McMurtry James McMurtry Dana Erlandson
Dana Erlandson

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