I’m pretty sure truck-stop rocker James McMurtry was laughing into his dinner as he sat at Poppi’s Anatolia last time he came to Eugene. He was chilling out alone before his WOW Hall show, sitting one table over from me, and couldn’t help but to hear my friend Becky bitching me out for not putting hay bales around the bottom of my Airstream trailer in a sort of redneck insulation to keep it warm in the winter.
McMurtry sings the poetry of meth, drinking, lost love and living in Airstream trailers and crappy houses in a low, nasal twang. He’s been called “America’s voice,” “Texastentialist folk-rock” and “bookish boogie” in an effort to explain how danceable yet elegiac his tales of rural dystopia are. He’s at once quietly funny, biting and sad.
It’s easy to lose track of the fact that McMurtry plays a pretty mean hard rock guitar as you get caught up in his story-songs of losers, rebels and melancholy: “Will work for food / Will die for oil / Will kill for power and to us the spoils / The billionaires get to pay less tax / The working poor get to fall through the cracks.” McMurtry sings activism without sounding like an activist; he sounds a little broke, a little pissed off and a lot like the kind of guy who gets how hard it is when your dented metal trailer’s too damn cold.
James McMurtry plays with Denver 8 pm Tuesday, June 18, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door.