What to Do Tonight: James McMurtry

His voice is as gruff as he is
  • His voice is as gruff as he is
Singer-songwriter James McMurtry lives in Austin, and his characters project a dusty, windblown working-class presence consistent with Texas. But his music trends toward folksy, heartland rock informed by Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp. McMurtry was fresh from a win at the Kerrville New Folk Festival songwriting competition in 1987 when he slipped a demo to Mellencamp, who was filming a script by McMurtry’s writer dad Larry. Rather than cover one of his songs, as McMurtry had hoped, Mellencamp offered to produce McMurtry’s 1989 debut, Too Long in the Wasteland. His deep gruff baritone unfolds stories with plainspoken authority against easygoing mid-tempo roots rock. But it was a rare diversion into politics that provided McMurtry’s biggest break. His Bush-bashing hard-luck anthem “We Can’t Make It Here” earned him 2006’s song- and album-of-the-year accolades from the American Music Association. His 2008 follow-up Just Us Kids follows the same path, skewering the Bush years (“Cheney’s Toy” is a highlight) while making room for some homespun paeans to everyday people. McMurtry plays the Beachland Ballroom at 8 p.m., with Jonny Burke opening. Tickets are $20, $18 in advance. — Chris Parker