that from just listening to him talk.” His mother bought him his first guitar, and taught him his first chords at age six. He was nine and listening to Kris Kristofferson records when he “realized that songs were written,” but didn’t start writing his own until he hit eighteen. “I always knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t realize that it was possible. I made a half-assed attempt at being a student for a while, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do as a vocation, and then I just started drifting further into it. It took over gradually.” What had started as a happy-hour beer garden gig at the Saw Mill Cafe in Tucson, where McMurtry was attending school, drifted further towards a vocation in 1987, when McMurtry entered the songwriter contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival. “They had six winners, and I was one of them that year. Somebody thought my songs were good. I remember, because I was the last one announced, and I knew I was gonna be real depressed if I wasn’t one of those guys.” Two years later, after sending tapes to John Mellencamp, who had hired McMurtry’s father to write a screenplay, he landed his second bit of outside validation when Mellencamp asked Mc Murtry if he’d like to record an album, with Mellencamp producing. The result was McMurtry’s 1989 release, Too Long in the Wasteland. The debut was followed three years later with Candyland, and now, another three years in, with Where’d You Hide the Body. The new release is a sleeper of a disk that plays to McMurtry’s strengths with quiet stunners like “Iolanthe” and the title track, but it also shows him stretching out, utilizing Austin session man Stephen Bruton’s wah-wah guitar for “Fuller Brush Man,” a funky rocker tethered only by McMurtry’ s understated singing. As for that singing, McMurtry says “I’m still learning that. I tend to write songs that let the syllables fall in the pockets so you don’t have to work them very hard if you don’t want to. When I was younger, before I had a record deal, I used to try to sing a lot more. I’d hate to listen to that stuff now. You make too big a deal out of a line and it kind of ruins it.” The rest of the album, with the exception of the disconcertingly upbeat “Rayolight,” is the sort of quietly percolating, almost ominous narrative that grows on you with repeated listening, like the minor revelations that present themselves in those moments before sleep comes. Next morning, when you wake up, you can taste their residue on your tongue, but like the days McMurtry conjures in his songs, they were so much clearer the night before. It’s a poetic subtlety at work, and it makes you wonder if McMurtry, when he’s not forging songs from his memories, ever tries his hand at straight poetry. “Naw,” he says. “It doesn’t interest me. It did once, when I was first learning to write, but then I wrote pretty bad poems. I wound up stripping them down for spare parts and using them in songs. It worked a lot better that way.” And what works is, after all, the bottom line. “With me, it’s just the next song, and the next one after that. It’s just trying to get a song finished, trying to get one more tool, one more song to play.” Comprehensive Computer Services A Holistic Appproach Troubleshooting, Consultation Installation, Upgrades, Repair Networking Custom Database Programming Data Analysis PC or MAC Ongoing Comprehensive Support Gary Lundquest 1405 West 6th Austin, TX 78703 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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