James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards

The sons of famous fathers start out several rungs higher on life's ladder than do the rest of us, but this head start doesn't guarantee superstardom, as the career of James McMurtry demonstrates. The singer-songwriter's 1989 debut, Too Long in the Wasteland, appeared on a major label, Columbia, thanks largely to the notoriety of his sire, novelist Larry McMurtry, who won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for the epic Western Lonesome Dove. James's disc deservedly earned positive notices, as did its two successors, yet mediocre sales convinced Columbia to drop him circa the mid-'90s. Nevertheless, he pushed forward, issuing three more CDs on Sugar Hill, a sizable indie, and another pair for a smaller imprint, Compadre. His most recent platter, 2005's Childish Things, is another strong entry thanks to James's dense, character-driven narratives and rootsy music that reaches its apex on the driving "We Can't Make It Here." Of course, Larry still gets more attention: He's a virtual lock to share a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. Even so, James continues to make fine music without regard to his spot on the McMurtry family ladder. Keep climbing.


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