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Stranger than fiction


Americana singer-songwriter James McMurtry has amassed a cult following over the years, largely on the heels of his twisted literary chops.

Kevin Pickard June 18th, 2014

James McMurtry

8 p.m. Wednesday, June 18

The Blue Door

2805 N. McKinley Ave.

bluedoorokc.com

524-0738

$25-30

It has been six years since James McMurtry released his last album, Just Us Kids. However, after signing to a new label, Complicated Game, and spending multiple sessions in a studio in New Orleans working with producer C.C. Adcock, his new album is set for release on October 28.

The recording process for the new record was different than usual for McMurtry.

“We’ll come in for a week or so and do some work and go off and tour some more, because really, the only money in the music business right now is [in] touring,” McMurtry said. “So we haven’t been able to just go in and spend six weeks in the studio like we used to in the old days.”

McMurtry’s father is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. His mother was an English teacher. Given that he was raised in a household burgeoning with creativity, it seems that he could have chosen any number of outlets for his creativity. Why music, specifically?

“Because I listened to it,” he said. “I didn’t read much, so it wasn’t natural for me to be a prose writer. But I listened to a lot of music growing up, so it seemed natural to be a musician.”

Maybe he didn’t read much, but his songs have a literary quality that few other songwriters can channel. Fiction writer Stephen King said McMurtry “may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation,” and if you pay attention to the lyrics in “Choctaw Bingo,” perhaps his most famous song, you realize that King’s assessment is devoid of hyperbole.

The music for “Choctaw Bingo” is, as McMurtry described, an “up-tempo, rockin’ shuffle,” which masks the weird, almost sinister lyrics underneath. The song tosses off casual references to incest, cooking meth and spiking your kids’ Cherry Coke with vodka (an efficient way to quiet them down for a long car ride, apparently). It’s full of sarcasm about its characters and the glamorization of the South so prevalent in country music. But do people notice its critique of that way of life?

“We get a lot of dancing for that one,” McMurtry said.

In previous interviews, McMurtry has talked about how mainstream country music sells a particular type of fiction, and while he also is selling a fiction in his music, his is darker and more twisted. As a Southern writer, he falls into the tradition of others like William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor.

“[Writing like this is] more believable than happy songs,” he said. “And I guess part of songwriting is working stuff out — it’s working out pain and whatever else.”

His new album will be different than his previous two releases, both because this one will not feature political songs — for which he has become known — and also because it is more acoustic-based. You’ll just have to wait and see what kind of twisted fictions are in store.

 
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