5 questions: James McMurtry

Topping the Americana charts this week is the 30-track This One's For Him, a multi-artist tribute to Texas songwriting giant Guy Clark.

This album includes acoustic salutes from the best of the best of the Lone Star State's musical wordsmiths, with zero fat and zero cholesteral.

James McMurtry's right there, with a stunning rendition of Clark's narrative "Cold Dog Soup," the lyrics to which bring together a cast of literary giants, from Jack Kerouac and William Butler Yeats to Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt.

"Ain't no money in poetry," goes the lyric. "That's what sets the poet free. I've had all the freedom I can stand."

It's ironic because McMurtry, a towering figure among Texas poets, has toiled in relatively obscurity since he began making records in 1989. Clark's song about noble poverty, which has given McMurtry his biggest-selling record, might as well be the story of his own career.

The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment), young James is perhaps best known for "We Can't Make it Here," a scathing indictment of the American Dream in the era of George W. Bush.

The simple fact," novelist Stephen King raved, "is that James McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation."

McMurtry will play the Live Wire Wednesday, Feb. 15.

You're bringing the band this time, but you also tour as a solo. Which do you prefer?

James McMurtry: I prefer a band show, if I'm doing a bunch in a row. I can do solos, just one or two, now and then but a whole week of solo shows really wears me out. It takes more out of you because the people aren't moving as much. Everything comes from you; you don't have band energy, or crowd energy, to feed off of.

"We Can't Make it Here" did some amazing things.

James McMurtry: It's still doing it - the Occupy Wall Street people are trying to do a record to get some funding, and we just cut a new track with Joan Baez singing.

"We Can't Make it Here" kind of has a life of its own. It finds its way places that I didn't send it. I knocked the thing together two weeks before the 2004 elections. Because I live in Texas, but I vote Democratic, so my vote doesn't really count. The only power I had was a record deal, so but a lot of what the narrator of that song complains about really took wing under Clinton. All that outsourcing, Clinton really sped that along. Bush didn't do anything to help, because his buddies were gettin' just as rich as Clinton's were.

It was never specifically an anti-Bush song. A lot of people took it that way.

I wonder if you felt that song had pigeonholed you in a way?

James McMurtry: Yeah, because for a while there I got pegged as a political writer after that. Because that's the song that got the most notice for a while. Not many of my songs are really that overtly political.

Are you working on some new stuff?

James McMurtry: We just got a couple of new songs together we're working into the set. We'll hopefully get C.C. Adcock to produce the next record down there in Louisiana, because I can't produce any more. I've run out of tricks!

I understand you were actually in the miniseries of Lonesome Dove. Who were you?

James McMurtry: The only time I was really close to the camera was in the whorehouse scene. I was the kid that didn't go into the whorehouse. I turned around and went back down the stairs. The rest of the time, I was on horseback, way off in the background.

James McMurtry

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15

Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show

Online: livewiremusichall.com