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CANCELED: James McMurtry
January 23 @ 8:00 pm
COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE: The Grey Eagle requires all patrons attending performances to provide proof of vaccination or negative test within 48 hours prior to the event. Currently Buncombe Co. mandates that masks be worn indoors. THIS MEANS YOU NEED TO MASK UP. Patrons will need to provide physical or digital documentation of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test. Professional negative test results must be dated no more than 48 hours prior to the event. At-home testing will not be accepted.
– 7PM DOORS / 8PM SHOW
– ALL AGES
– STANDING ROOM ONLY
“Back before Napster and Spotify, we toured to promote record sales. Now we make records to promote tour dates.”
AUSTIN, Texas: James McMurtry spins stories with a poet’s pen (“Long Island Sound”) and a painter’s precision (“She Loves Me”). Proof: The acclaimed songwriter’s new Complicated Game. McMurtry’s first collection in six years spotlights a craftsman in absolutely peak form as he turns from political toward personal (“These Things I’ve Come to Know,” “You Got to Me”). “The lyrical theme is mostly about relationships,” McMurtry says. “It’s also a little about the big old world verses the poor little farmer or fisherman. I never make a conscious decision about what to write about.”
Complicated Game delivers McMurtry’s trademark story songs time and again (“Copper Canteen,” “Deaver’s Crossing”), but the record brings a new (and certainly no less energetic) sonic approach. Simply put: McMurtry brings forth a another new masterpiece.
“How’m I Gonna Find You Now,” the record’s lead single boasts buoyant banjos and driving drums endlessly energetic. Whiplash vocals further frenzy the beat. “I’ve got a cup of black coffee so I don’t get lazy/I’ve got a rattle in the dashboard driving me crazy,” McMurtry effectively raps. “If I hit it with my fist, it’ll quit for a little while/Gonna have to stop to smoke in another mile/Headed into town gonna meet you at the mercantile/Take you to the Sonic get you grinning like a crocodile.”
Such vibrant vignettes consistently turn heads. They have for a quarter century now. Clearly, he’s only improving with time. “James McMurtry is one of my very few favorite songwriters on Earth and these days he’s working at the top of his game,” says Americana all-star Jason Isbell. “He has that rare gift of being able to make a listener laugh out loud at one line and choke up at the next. I don’t think anybody writes better lyrics.” “James writes like he’s lived a lifetime,” echoes iconic roots rocker John Mellencamp. Yes. Spin “South Dakota.” You’ll hear.
Further evidence: McMurtry’s Just Us Kids (2008) and Childish Things (2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched Americana Music Award nominations. Meanwhile, Childish Things scored endless critical praise and spent six full weeks topping the Americana Music Radio chart in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, Childish Things won the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year and “We Can’t Make It Here” was named the rapidly rising organization’s Song of the Year.
Of course, Complicated Game doubles down on literate storytelling longtime enthusiasts expect. Recall high watermarks past: “Childish Things,” “Choctaw Bingo,” “Peter Pan,” “Levelland,” and “Out Here in the Middle” only begin the list. (Yes, Robert Earl Keen covered those last two, “Levelland” remaining a live staple.) Just Us Kids alone includes fan favorites “Hurricane Party,” “Ruby and Carlos” and “You’d a Thought.” High watermarks deliver equal measures depth and breadth and pierce hearts with sharp sociopolitical commentary (“Fireline Road”).
More history: McMurtry critically lauded first album Too Long in the Wasteland (1989) was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill Records. In 1996, McMurtry received a Grammy nomination for Long Form Music Video for Where’d You Hide the Body. Additionally, It Had to Happen (1997) received the American Indie Award for Best Americana Album.
In 2004, McMurtry released the universally lauded Live in Aught-Three on Compadre Records. The following year, Childish Things notched arguably his most critical praise, spending six weeks at No. 1 on the Americana Music Radio Chart in 2005 and 2006. In September 2006, Childish Things and “We Can’t Make It Here” won the Americana Music Awards for Album and Song of the Year, respectively. McMurtry received more Americana Music Award nominations for 2008’s Just Us Kids. This album marked his highest Billboard 200 chart position in more than nearly two decades.
In 2009, Live in Europe was released, capturing the McMurtry band’s first European tour and extraordinary live set. Along with seasoned band members Ronnie Johnson, Daren Hess, and Tim Holt, the disc features special guests Ian McLagan (The Faces) and Jon Dee Graham (True Believers, Skunks). Also, for the first time ever, video of the James McMurtry Band’s live performance is available on the included DVD.
The poignant lyrics of his immense catalog still ring true today. In 2011, “We Can’t Make It Here” was cited among The Nation’s “Best Protest Songs Ever.” “‘We Can’t Make It Here,’” Bob Lefsetz wrote, “has stood the test of time because of its unmitigated truth.”
McMurtry tours year round and consistently throws down unparalleled powerhouse performances. The Washington Post notes: “Much attention is paid to James McMurtry’s lyrics and rightfully so: He creates a novel’s worth of emotion and experience in four minutes of blisteringly stark couplets. What gets overlooked, however, is that he’s an accomplished rock guitar player … serious stuff, imparted by a singularly serious band.”
It’s the voice that gets you first.
“BettySoo may well have the most gorgeous voice in Texas …if not in all contemporary folk – its purity and strength can be downright devastating.” – ACOUSTIC GUITAR
BettySoo’s vocal prowess is a thing of wonder. A world-class instrument of deft phrasing and purity, a voice that knows when to hold back and when to dive in. At her own live shows, taking a verse onstage with friends or singing harmonies in sessions with Austin’s finest, BettySoo sings with consummate loveliness and self-assurance. A voice that knows the roots of American music inside and out; coming from a most unexpected place – a diminutive Korean-American with a deceptively girl-next-door demeanor.
Then the performance reels you in.
“Truly remarkable. BettySoo’s sharp, often self-deprecating humor skillfully wove the songs together. Her clear, evocative voice and poignant lyrics recall Patty Griffin and Joni Mitchell, and did I mention she’s a hell of a guitar player?”
– NO DEPRESSION, live concert review
Touring the unforgiving circuit of listening rooms, clubs and festivals, BettySoo has mastered the art of performance. A funny anecdote sets up a song of heartbreak and need; a witty rejoinder belies the dark truths that underpin much of her work.
And that’s when you notice the songs.
“Beautiful, heart-wrenching songwriting that is also edgy and unwavering.”
– KUT, Austin
“Exceptionally well written and arranged songs with a confidence that speaks volumes.”
– AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
They call it the live music capital of the world. Austin, Texas, is a city where the musical bar is set high. Since exploding on the Austin scene a decade ago, BettySoo has carved out an enviable niche among the very best the city has to offer.
Here’s what BettySoo has been up to:
Debuted two full-band, full-throated songs from her hotly-anticipated China Girl: The Songs of David Bowie and David Byrne at a packed-to-the-rafters benefit for beloved Austin bassist George Reiff with artists like Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes and Patty Griffin.
Wrote, recorded, and toured in Europe and the U.S. with Rebecca Loebe and Grace Pettis for the new buzz-heavy trio Nobody’s Girl, celebrating the release of their debut EP Waterline with Lucky Hound Records in Fall 2018 and their self-titled album July 2021.
Recorded vocal harmonies for countless Texas luminaries, including the last two Eliza Gilkyson records, the upcoming James McMurtry release, Robert Harrison’s (Cotton Mather) solo release, Pat Byrne (winner of Ireland’s The Voice), among others.
Toured nationally in support of Alejandro Escovedo.
Appeared at a star-studded tribute for mentor Jimmy LaFave, bringing tears to every eye with a devastating, stripped-down version of LaFave’s “Worn Out American Dream.”
Approved mixes for a sparkling country-rock collaboration with song-writer and filmmaker Gandulf Hennig (documentaries on Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard) produced by Grammy-winner Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper, Rickie Lee Jones), with guest appearances by Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), David Steele (Dwight Yoakam, John Prine), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Taras Prodaniuk (Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson), and others.
Laid down vocals for the second Charlie Faye & The Fayettes record, a side project harkening back to the days of Motown.
…and she still managed to find the time to sit in at gigs with friends such as Butch Hancock (the Flatlanders), Michael Fracasso, Jaimee Harris, and Jon Dee Graham.
BettySoo is as Texan as they come.
Raised outside Houston by first-generation Korean immigrant parents, educated at UT, she grew up listening to the Great American songbook and country radio. Older sisters led her to the world of singer/songwriters, and nights spent at The Cactus Café and Hole In The Wall turned her on to the legacy of Texas song.
Her 2007 solo disc, Little Tiny Secrets, garnered heavy regional airplay; 2009’s Heat Sin Water Sin produced by Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard), provided building blocks to a national (and international) audience. In 2014, When We’re Gone, co-produced with cellist Brian Standefer (Alejandro Escovedo, Terry Allen) placed her firmly in the first rank of songwriters working today.
She’s won the requisite awards: New Folk at Kerrville, Songwriter of the Year at Big Top Chautauqua, The Dave Carter Songwriting Award at Sisters Folk Festival, Mountain Stage’s New Song.
She’s played the festivals – multiple South by Southwests, Kerrville, Calgary and more. And the radio shows – E-Town, Mountain Stage, WoodSongs, BBC 2 with Bob Harris.
Her singing has been heard on Riverdale and Girl Boss, and her songs formed the musical backbone to Christine Hoang’s 2017 play A Girl Named Sue, singled out by Austin360.com in their review as “gorgeous, moving ballads comment(ing) on the themes of the scenes they punctuate.”
The future looks auspicious for BettySoo.
Until the novel corona-virus shutdown, the Nobody’s Girl project was touring nonstop, and their intelligent lyrics and tightly-woven harmonies keep their audiences entranced. The trio has recorded a full-length album featuring players such as Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan), J.J. Johnson (Tedeschi Trucks), Glenn Fukunaga (Dixie Chicks), David Grissom (Buddy Guy, Allman Brothers, Ringo Starr), and Michael Ramos (John Mellencamp, BoDeans), who reprised his role as producer. She joined Bonnie Whitmore (“[email protected]#k With Sad Girls”) in support of James McMurtry’s national tours. You’d likely see her onstage singing harmonies at CD release shows for artists such as Eliza Gilkyson, James Hyland, and Kim Richey. Music programmers have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, and listeners still have the opportunity to re-familiarize – or hear for the first time – the extraordinary talent that is BettySoo.
In the Time of COVID-19, BettySoo can be found cutting a unique path through the broad streaming landscape — and as with everything she does, she has approached it in a way that invites authentic connection, encourages compassion, and merits listening.
“In her own words, ‘I guess Asian-American songwriters aren’t that common. At least, not in Texas.’ Well, songwriting and singing of this caliber aren’t that common anywhere.”
– NO DEPRESSION
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