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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Much like his iconic father, James McMurtry continues to age gracefully as a writer

James McMurtry laughed when reminiscing about his first appearance in Spokane during the 1990s.

“It was zero degrees and women were bare legged with high heels,” McMurtry said while calling from Washington, D.C. “I’ll never forget it.”

Forgive McMurtry, who is accustomed to the Texas heat and chills easily.

The conditions will not be an issue for McMurtry when he performs Friday at the Lucky You Lounge.

“Maybe there’s a reason I’ll be up in Spokane in October before the blizzards and the freezing cold arrives,” McMurtry said.

The cerebral singer-songwriter is touring behind his latest album, “The Horses and the Hounds,” which proves that recording artists can improve with age.

McMurtry, 60, arguably didn’t hit his creative stride until he crafted his eighth album, “Just Us Kids,” in 2008. Since then the son of novelist Larry McMurtry (“The Last Picture Show,” “Lonesome Dove’) has upped his game with each release.

“I think you can get better as a writer with age and experience,” McMurtry said. “I believe it happens.”

Just before reaching octogenarian status in 2021, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” which is one of the finest albums of his unparalleled career. Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have made terrific albums after reaching senior citizen status.

“Each of those guys have made really good music after reaching a certain age,” McMurtry said while calling from his home in Lockhart, Texas. “It gives me hope.”

McMurtry is in a groove. His latest collection of wry and poignant tales are worth experiencing. “If It Don’t Bleed” is a witty punch to the gut.

“I wrote that one in 2019 and it was inspired by my cousin, who was badly addicted to cocaine,” McMurtry said. “He survived it. He would tell me, ‘Quit bitching. If it don’t bleed, it don’t matter.’ I realized that there was a song there.”

The moving “Blackberry Winter” was inspired by a cold summer day. “You know how I feel about chilly weather,” McMurtry said.

And then there is “Jackie,” which is yet another song McMurtry has written about women and horses.

“Jackie is a composite of what I’ve seen,” McMurtry said. “I’ve known a lot of women addicted to horses.”

McMurtry enjoys making music but he acknowledges that it is indeed work.

“This is a job,” McMurtry said. “It’s not like I’m relaxing. I love to write but it takes effort. I have to do it since I got to have a job. I put out records so I can keep touring. But it’s worked out for me since I never sold that many records.

“Nobody is buying anybody’s music anymore. It’s all about touring and a lot of these guys that are headlining (theaters and amphitheaters) are doing great just by selling merchandise. When I was (opening) for (Jason) Isbell (in 2021), they were selling $40,000 worth of merchandise every night. It’s amazing how so much has changed over the last 25 years in this business. I’m just grateful I can make a living.”

However, like many musicians, McMurtry can no longer afford to live in Austin, which has been booming for years since corporations have moved to the capital of Texas and transformed the landscape of the once relatively sleepy musician’s town. Austin is now bustling but it has displaced musicians, who have been the soul of the city, which is known as the live music capital of the world.

“Everyone I know is moving out of town,” McMurtry said. “I moved out years ago. I don’t live far from town. I’m about a half-hour away from Austin (in Lockhart) but it’s a shame how things have changed.”

A number of Austin venues have been knocked down, such as the historic Liberty Lunch, due to downtown location. However, such iconic venues as the Broken Spoke and The Continental Club still exist. McMurtry still has a regular gig at the latter. “But I often have a hard time finding parking,” McMurtry said

But McMurtry doesn’t think about Austin while out on the road. “I focus on my music and the cities I go back to,” McMurtry said. “I still love going from town to town. It’s what I do.”

McMurtry is just trying to play Northern cities before winter arrives.

“It’s nice when I can work that out,” McMurtry said. “I still don’t know how the women in Spokane can dress like they do when it’s that cold. I can’t do it. I guess they’re tougher than me up there.”