Singer-songwriter James McMurtry was taking some time off last week to relax before going back on the road for a series of concerts that will bring him to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on Saturday, Feb. 27.
“There’s nothing much going on right now,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. “I’m trying to get the truck battery charged so I can go fishing.”
McMurtry was hoping to reel in a few white bass, a fish, he said, that he likes to barbecue over a mesquite fire.
The avid fisherman, of course, is better known for his musical output. His first album, “Too Long In the Wasteland,” was recorded in 1989 and produced by John Mellencamp. McMurtry has gone on to release eight more albums, including “Complicated Game.”
Released in February of last year, “Complicated Game” marked a bit of a departure for the musician in that it moved away from some of the more political statements he’s known for, focusing instead on relationships.
McMurtry is to perform solo at the Criterion and other venues on this leg of his tour. He still works with his longtime band – Darren Hess on drums and Cornbread on bass, with soundman Tim Holt occasionally joining in on guitar – but the cost of taking a band on the road and scheduling issues prohibited doing so, he said.
Much has been made of McMurtry being the son of author Larry McMurtry, whose work includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Lonesome Dove” and “The Last Picture Show.” He once planned on following in his father’s footsteps, studying English at the University of Arizona, but found he had a greater affinity for music than prose. As a songwriter, McMurtry has a keen eye for detail in developing his character-based songs, songs that often center on outsiders and the marginalized. A darling of critics, he’s been championed by literary heavyweights like Bangor’s Stephen King.
McMurtry admits he’s written only one song in the year since “Complicated Game” was released and that deadlines are what get him motivated.
“I don’t write much until I have to make a record,” he said.
Still, collecting material for his songs is an ongoing process.
“I work from fragments,” he said. These fragments are germs for a song that he records, either in a notebook or more often his smartphone, and looks through when he finally sits down to write the songs.
“A couple of lines and a melody, and it becomes the seed for a song,” he explained.
One of McMurtry’s best known songs is “We Can’t Make It Here,” a hard-hitting commentary on the changing face of America where factories are closing and jobs are shipped overseas. That overt type of protest song has been put on the back burner. McMurtry remains angry about the current state of the union but said he has no desire to “write sermons.”
“Now I’m weaving social commentary into my songs,” he said.
Opening for McMurtry in Bar Harbor is Maine musician Micah Blue Smaldone. See related story.
Tickets are $30 for balcony seating, $25 for orchestra seating and $20 for students and are available at the Criterion or online at criteriontheatre.org.