CHILDISH THINGS (Compadre-Didgeridoo)


"There's a Vietnam vet with a cardboard sign/ sitting there on the left turn line/ flag on his wheelchair flapping in the breeze/ one leg missing and both hands free." - We Can't Make It Here - James McMurtry.

Author Stephen King downloaded James McMurtry's latest marathon narrative from his web page, pre-release, and played it on high rotation on his Maine radio station.

So what you might say here in the unlucky radio country where the genre is relegated to community corrals.

Well, We Can't Make It Here expires at a tick over seven minutes and King reckons his listeners can hang on for the ads.

"Stark and wrenchingly direct, this may be the best American protest song since Bob Dylan's Masters of War," King wrote of the epic that links collateral damage of wars of mass distraction, factory closures and sending work offshore to slaves of the new millennia.

Sounds familiar with our citrus farmers and other agrarians taking a bath and foreign spivs unable to sort the wheat from the criminal chaff in Iraq and beyond.

Well, of course, it takes that long to spin a yarn of that calibre - a sibling of sorts to Choctaw Bingo that parodied poverty driving rural rejects to run speed labs.

Texan McMurtry, now 50, sang a longer version at George Dubya's front porch protest HQ at Camp Casey but hasn't donned Steve Earle's flack jacket for all of his eighth album Childish Things.

The singer, then rooting for his little literary mate Kinky Friedman to take up gubernatorial duties in Bush's former digs, leaves his foe with a message "get out of that limo, look us in the eye/ call us on the cell phone, tell us all why."

James previously covered The Kinkster's Wild Man From Borneo on his 1997 album It Had To Happen.

McMurtry - son of author-screenwriter Larry - is realistic enough to know that, unlike in many countries, he's unlikely to be shot for exercising his freedom of speech.

The singer kept his Ford pick-up but quit membership of the NRA and based his song on a Marine from New Jersey steel town Allentown, once celebrated by Springsteen.

"Mike Hoffman lived every aspect of my song," McMurtry revealed.

"He was from Allentown. The major industry was Bethlehem Steel and Mack Truck. By the time he got out of high school both of them were cutting back and there were no jobs. So he rolled the dice and joined the Marines. He figured he could get out before the next war.

He had two days left, literally, when he was told they were all going to Iraq.

"He survived that, and when he got home Bethlehem declared bankruptcy. His father had worked for them his whole life and had a host of health problems from breathing that stuff.

Now Bethlehem's folded up and he's got no benefits. And that's the song."


"Picked you up in Pocatello/ in some truck stop parking lot/ out beside that burned up Volvo/ with the smoking engine shot." - Pocatello - James McMurtry.

McMurtry spreads his genes with son Curtis, 14, guesting on sax, on entrée See The Elephant and singing sculptor Terry Allen's son Bukka on organ on title track.

The singer daubs his songs with credible characters from his travels - the drifter in Six Year Drought, a trucker dreaming of an historic hitchhiker in Pocatello, escape from Charlemagne's Home Town and dangers of a déjà vu duo in Peter Case's Old Part Of Town.

But, like fellow Texan Robert Earl Keen, he brings the family in whimsy of Memorial Day and finale Holiday.

And no refried rock distorted guitars to muddy the messages.

Dixie Chicks axeman David Grissom guests on Bad Enough, Joe Ely adds vocals to old Slew Foot and the late Champ Hood's son Warren beefs up the country feel with tasteful fiddle.

The title track is inspired by Corinthians 13:11.

"Aunt Clara kept her Bible/ right next to the phone in case she needs a quote."

I keep mine in the passenger seat on trips to the city to read at traffic lights or to sub-continent call centre chappies at home.


"Uncle Slayton's got his Texas pride/ back in the thickets with his Asian bride/ he's got a Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow/ he still makes whiskey cause he still knows how/ he plays that Choctaw Bingo every Friday night/ you know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why." - Choctaw Bingo - James McMurtry.

We've enjoyed his famous dad Larry's southern books and telemovies and now have a snapshot of the music career of Texan troubadour James McMurtry.

Junior explores the Lone Star state Badlands and way beyond on this cinematic soundscape.

McMurtry tosses his bandits and backwoods moonshiners turned speed lab fiends into a bucolic blender that seeps into the listener's psyche in Choctaw Bingo and Out Here In The Middle.

The telescopic Texan and his riveting road band The Heartless Bastards leave no turn un-stoned in this 13 song live disc cut in 2003 at concerts everywhere but Texas.

This is James seventh album in his 16-year recording career and sleeper of 2004 - perfect New Year gift.

Those characters drawn by McMurtry are no figments of imagination - they live, love and die out where the buses don't run in the Texas wilderness.

Texas Monthly magazine often runs exposes of hillbillies waging war with cops and the DEA.

But few artists, except Adam Carroll, Steve Earle and James McMurtry, sang of it until recently.

"That's what's happening out in the country and nobody's writing about it," James, 42, revealed when he launched this dynamic disc with his band - bassist Ronnie Johnson and drummer Darren Hess.

McMurtry's trio inject his lyrics into an aural bed that rocks and twangs with equal passion at venues in Salt Lake City, Utah, Asheville, North Carolina, Nashville and Wichita, Kansas.


"He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala/ caught a great big ol' blue cat on a driftin' jug line/ sells his hard wood timber to the chippin' mill/ cooks that crystal meth cause the shine don't sell/ he cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell/ you know he likes that money he don't mind the smell." - Choctaw Bingo - James McMurtry.

"Up in my dad's neck of the woods (Archer City), they're busting speed labs all the time," James revealed.

"I don't know what it is about hillbillies but they love to go out in the woods and make something illegal. They fear jail less than work."

McMurtry digs beneath the dry Texas landscape to expose rough edges of these desperadoes on a song covered by the Redneck Mother creator and mentor Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Pa Larry may have turned this study of neighbours into a mini-series or maybe a mere novel like Lonesome Dove.

Larry, now 76, wrote The Last Picture Show and 1975 Terms Of Endearment - both later Oscar winning movies - and co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.

His other novels adapted to movies included Texasville, The Evening Star, Horseman Passing By (Hud), Leaving Cheyenne (Loving Molly), and the mini-series Streets Of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk and Johnson's War.

But James personalises his white trash tale into song premiered on previous disc Saint Mary of the Woods - that title track is the entrée on this gem lost in the sands of 2004 until rescued by Australian label Didgeridoo.

Old moonshiners have truly passed their batons to outlaws on a back road to hell.

James inherited literary genes from novelist lecturer dad Larry and mother Josephine - also an English professor.

He was born in Fort Worth in 1962 but his parents split when he was just two and his mother taught him guitar at seven.

His folks led parallel lives - in 1969 they both took teaching jobs in Virginia.

James tells his concert audience he wrote Levelland - one of several songs covered by Robert Earl Keen - about Floydada but it didn't fit the meter.

He wrote it for a communist friend Max Crawford.

"Flatter than a table top, makes you wonder why they stopped here," he sings of the Texas Panhandle city without pity, "wagon must have lost a wheel, or they lacked ambition."

In Max's Theorem he adds that Max said: "a good old boy can become an intellectual but an intellectual can't become a good old boy."

McMurtry reaches way back for grand-maternal ode 60 Acres, I'm Not From Here and embryonic album title track Too Long In The Wasteland.

He introduces social comment tune No More Buffalo with a droll comment - used to think "I was an artist but realise I'm just a beer salesman."

James developed writing during an Arizona university stint and used literary licence to write Lights of Cheyenne "even though I never lived in Wyoming but travelled through there before."

Out Here In The Middle, key to his Texas triangle, is littered with Haggard imagery - "amber waves of grain" spliced with "bathtubs of speed."

The brilliant lyricist of life on the edge is humble on creative sources.

"Songwriting is like fishing," he says, "it's fun when they're biting. I don't write until I feel like writing. That may be detrimental. I sit in front of my computer, open files and look."

And when there's nothing fresh on the screen he tries a fitting finale - the late Texan Townes Van Zandt's oft-covered Rex's Blues.

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