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“The Horses and the Hounds,” James McMurtry’s latest album, proves recording artists can improve with age.
McMurtry, 60, arguably didn’t hit his creative stride until he crafted his eighth album, “Just Us Kids,” in 2008. Since then, he has upped his game with each release.
“I think you can get better as a writer with age and experience,” McMurtry said. “I believe it happens.”
Just before reaching octogenarian status, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” which is one of the finest albums of his unparalleled career. Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have made terrific albums after reaching senior citizen status.
“Each of those guys have made really good music after reaching a certain age,” McMurtry said by phone from his home in Lockhart, Texas. “It gives me hope.”
McMurtry is in a groove. His latest collection of wry and poignant tales are worth experiencing. “If It Don't Bleed” is a witty punch to the gut.
“I wrote that one in 2019 and it was inspired by my cousin, who was badly addicted to cocaine,” McMurtry said. “He survived it. He would tell me, ‘Quit bitching — if it don’t bleed, it don't matter.’ I realized that there was a song there.”
The moving “Blackberry Winter” was inspired by a cold summer day, and then there is “Jackie,” yet another song McMurtry has written about women and horses.
“ ‘Jackie’ is a composite of what I’ve seen,” McMurtry said. “I’ve known a lot of women addicted to horses.”
McMurtry, who will perform Wednesday at the Wildwood Saloon in Iowa City, enjoys making music, but he acknowledges that it is indeed work.
“This is a job,” he said. “It’s not like I’m relaxing. I love to write, but it takes effort. I have to do it since I got to have a job. I put out records so I can keep touring. But it’s worked out for me, since I never sold that many records. Nobody is buying anybody’s music.
“It’s all about touring, and a lot of these guys that are headlining (theaters and amphitheaters) are doing great just by selling merchandise. When I was (opening) for (Jason) Isbell, they were selling $40,000 worth of merch a night. It's amazing how so much has changed over the last 25 years in this business. I’m just grateful I can make a living.”
However, like many musicians, McMurtry no longer can afford to live in Austin, which has been booming for years since corporations have moved to the capital of Texas and transformed the landscape of the once relatively sleepy musicians’ town. Austin is now bustling, but it has displaced musicians who have been the soul of the city, known as the live music capital of the world.
“Everyone I know is moving out of town,” McMurtry said. “I moved out years ago. I don’t live far from town. I’m about a half-hour away from Austin, but it's a shame how things have changed.”
A number of Austin venues have been knocked down, including the historic Liberty Lunch, because of its downtown location. However, iconic venues like the Broken Spoke and The Continental Club still exist.
McMurtry still has a regular gig at the latter. “But I often have a hard time finding parking,” he said
But McMurtry doesn't think about Austin while out on the road.
“I focus on my music and the cities I go back to,” he said. “I still love going from town to town. It's what I do.“