Texas songwriter James McMurtry has made the Capital Region a regular tour stop throughout his career, beginning 20 years ago with a solo gig at the long-gone Saratoga Winners.
Usually he’s seen with a full-throttle rhythm section behind him, but Thursday night he made his Hudson debut with a now rare solo performance at Club Helsinki Hudson.
For much of the evening McMurtry made up for the lack of a band by letting a twelve-string ring out his mesmerizing open-tuned changes. There was a touch of Lead Belly in the bottom end and the jangle of Roger McGuinn in the top, but there were also plenty of snaky Richard Thompson-like passages tangled in between the lyrics.
James McMurtry – not a happy guy.
But tunes like “St. Mary of the Woods,” “Rachel’s Song” and “Charlemagne’s Home Town” hit hard even without the thunder of drums and bass. In fact, the spartan delivery made truly taut tales like “Ruby & Carlos” and the brilliant “Fireline Road” even more powerful.
McMurtry began to tipple towards the end of the set. “Could you send a Maker’s Mark up here?,” he asked the staff, adding “if you don’t have Maker’s Mark, Jameson’s would do just fine.” Unfortunately, as soon as the glass touched his lips, it seemed that his work was done, and the last few songs, each accompanied by a slug of the stuff, seemed phoned in compared to the intense delivery earlier in the evening.
Western Massachusetts’ pride and joy, Ray Mason, opened the show for McMurtry, as he had in Northampton the evening prior at the Iron Horse Music Hall. Mason’s reverb-drenched half-hour was as chipper and chatty as McMurtry’s was dour and mute.
But when you’ve got songs as good as McMurtry’s, who needs the small talk?
Review by Bokonon
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union