An Essay on the Music of Legendary Lyricist James McMurtry

James McMurtry: A Little More Than Just A Texas Country Musician

James McMurtry, an American Texas-Country singer-songwriter, has carved a unique path in the world of music. Known for his compelling lyrics and soulful melodies, McMurtry has captivated audiences with his song writing and storytelling prowess. In this article, we will explore the life and music of James McMurtry, his influence, notable works, and his impact as a lyricist on the folk and Americana music scene.

Early Life and Influences

James McMurtry was born on March 18, 1962, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was born into a family of artists, his father is the renowned novelist Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show, creativity flowed through his veins at a very young age. Inspired by his father's storytelling abilities, James developed a deep appreciation for narratives and began writing his own songs as a young man.

Breakthrough Album: 'Too Long in the Wasteland'

In 1989, McMurtry released his debut studio album, Too Long in the Wasteland, which garnered critical acclaim and put him on the map as a promising singer-songwriter. The album showcased McMurtry's folk and Americana roots, with songs like "Painting by Numbers" and the title track, "Too Long in the Wasteland," resonating with listeners. Too Long in the Wasteland established McMurtry as an artist to watch, and his subsequent albums only solidified his reputation. My favorite album is Just Us Kids, with songs like "Hurricane Party," and the title song, "Just Us Kids," both of which inspire a certain want in me, as a wordsmith enthusiast myself.

Notable Works and Musical Style

Over the years, James McMurtry has released several notable albums, each showcasing his unique musical style and thought-provoking lyrics. It Had to Happen (1997), Saint Mary of The Woods (2002), Childish Things (2005), Just Us Kids (2008), and Complicated Game (2015) are among his most acclaimed works, with songs like "No More Buffalo," "Choctaw Bingo," "Out Here in the Middle," "Just Us Kids," "We Can't Make It Here," and "Copper Canteen" earning him widespread recognition. 

McMurtry's music is characterized by his ability to paint vivid pictures with words, delving into the complexities of everyday life and the human condition. His storytelling approach, combined with his gritty vocals and skilled guitar playing, creates a mesmerizing listening experience.

Influence and Impact

James McMurtry's influence extends beyond his music. His ability to address social and political issues through his lyrics has struck a chord with audiences, making him a voice for the marginalized and unheard. Songs like "We Can't Make It Here" became anthems for those affected by economic disparity and political disillusionment.

Furthermore, McMurtry's authenticity and dedication to his craft have garnered him a loyal fan base that continues to grow. His live performances are renowned for their raw energy and emotional intensity, leaving audiences captivated and craving for more. 

I first saw him live at the historic dance hall, Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas now encompassed by the Texas Hill Country's growing town of New Braunfels. I was introduced to McMurtry's music by my friend, Clif, an avid enthusiast of McMurtry's music, I quickly understood why. Clif and I went to that first show together, and I have since been a growing supporter. McMurtry, aside from having ties to the Texas Hill Country, is also well-known in my current whereabouts of Livingston, Montana. McMurtry often plays throughout south central Montana sometimes helping me to feel closer to home.


James McMurtry's music is a testament to the power of storytelling and the impact it can have on both individuals and society as a whole. Through his honest and thought-provoking lyrics, he has touched the hearts of many and left an indelible mark on the folk and Americana music landscape. Whether you're a long-time fan or new to his music, exploring James McMurtry's discography is a journey worth embarking on.

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