Singer-songwriter McMurtry brings stories to Ashland

From Richmond Times-Dispatch on

For the past 21 years, Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry has been penning and performing country- and folk-flavored character-rich short stories that celebrate the struggles and occasional successes of life in small-town America.

Though McMurtry's inspiration typically comes from his keen observations of the human condition, the story lines are sometimes born in unlikely locations.

Take, for example, the protagonists of "Ruby and Carlos," the tragically beautiful love story first heard on McMurtry's 2008 release "Just Us Kids."

"We'd been out for a while. We had been in the north and were going south," McMurtry, 48, said in a recent cellphone conversation.

On a stop along the way, a sound man offered his own not-flattering assessment of a south-of-the-Mason-Dixon Line restaurant. The line ended up being attributed to the hard-living and hard-hearted Ruby in the song's opening bars.

"That was the seed and I had to come up with a character who might have said that. Somehow, I stumbled on to Ruby."

Carlos and Ruby make encore appearances on McMurtry's newest product, "Live in Europe," a CD/DVD combo that documents last year's tour of a half-dozen or so countries.

McMurtry's intent was to produce his first DVD project. Technical difficulties ensued.

"We couldn't edit the DVD properly so I couldn't really charge money for the video. But I decided I could make a record out of it and use the DVD footage as a bonus. "

The audio portion has eight cuts while the DVD portion contains six tunes including McMurtry fan favorite, "Choctaw Bingo." And "You'd A' Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)" shows up on both track lists.

Fans of folk music icon Cohen need not worry.

"The lyrics on that song somewhat reminded me of his stuff. It was kind of a joke. I came into the studio and everybody was waiting for me to finish the song. I told them if it weren't for Leonard Cohen, they wouldn't have been sitting around all day so Leonard Cohen must die. That became a running joke in the studio."

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