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James McMurtry

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The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart at AllGood

We got a big event coming up next week at the AllGood.

The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart is a sort of supergroup composed of Austin legend Jon Dee Graham, New York’s Freedy Johnston, and the little sister of the legendary family band The Cowsills (upon whom the Partridge Family TV show was based)–Susan Cowsill.

OK, so I am gonna confess–I’m not at all familiar with Freedy Johnston (though I had at least heard of him when his name came up). I’m also not real familiar with The Cowsills, though I did watch a hell of a lot of Love, American Style when I was a kid and anything on the idiot box entertained me (The Cowsills performed the theme song) and, of course, The Partridge Family, and who hasn’t heard the iconic Hair? And I honestly didn’t know Susan Cowsill had her own career.

Both are my oversight, and based on what I’ve heard from The Hobart Brothers–and what of their solo efforts I’ve had time to listen to–I’ll correct, soonest.

Jon Dee Graham is another matter entirely. The man is considered something of a legend in Austin–and he oughtta be selling out shows here. I first became aware of him a few years ago, when he was trying to establish a “residency” (aka a “regular gig”) one night a month at The AllGood. A friend who has known Jon Dee personally for 20-some-odd years basically begged me to come to the show one night. I heard Jon Dee play his acoustic and his “lap steel” and belt out some of the most heartfelt lyrics I have ever heard in his gravelly country-meets-blues voice–and I have tried very hard to get to all of his shows since.

The problem is–no one here knows him. I have seen him play chronically under-attended gigs here in Dallas. This is a complete travesty–and, really, the reason we don’t get more intimate live music up here. We should not have to drive to Austin to see this stuff.

For real–say his name in Austin, and they know who you are talking about. Say “Jon Dee” to Bob Schneider, James McMurtry, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Charlie Sexton, or Alejandro Escovedo–or the people who go to their shows down there–and they know who he is. He’s got great people playing with him–I’ve seen Jon Dee play with Andrew Duplantis, who has been the bass player for Son Volt for several years now, and with Fastball drummer Joe Shuffield. Both Andrew and Joe are also part of Jon Dee’s semi-regular backing band, The Fighting Cocks.

And, yeah–damn right I’m dropping names.

Jon Dee Graham, alone, should be filling bigger venues. Solo, he should be filling the Kessler. This deal with The Hobart Brothers should be filling the Granada, or maybe even House of Blues.

The fact is–next Thursday (that’s April 5), you and I and all too few others will be able to eat a good meal–AllGood’s food is great–and enjoy a very intimate show with this awesome, awesome “supergroup”. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that they will tear completely through the one album The Hobart Brothers recorded together (which is greatness, IMHO), and have time for some of the artists’ solo work.

Seriously–do not miss this show.

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James McMurtry at the Kessler

I have spent an eternity traveling US Highway 69 through Oklahoma.

To be clear: even once driving that 233-mile road from the Red River until you pick up Interstate 44 at Big Cabin qualifies as “too much time”. Doing the round trip entitles you to use the phrase “my time in Hell” in conversation. Do the round trip at least once annually, as I did with my family from my 10th through 18th years (often twice a year), and then voluntarily at least 10 times as an adult–you come to truly understand the words “Hell” and “eternity”. Viscerally.

And then you discover the James McMurtry song “Choctaw Bingo”.

The song becomes the travelogue of your sprint up this highway (and more than just “about the north Texas-southern Oklahoma crystal methamphetamine industry” as McMurtry announces on his album Live in Aught-Three). Get to know the song, and you find yourself checking off landmarks as you pass through dusty one-stoplight towns. Tushka–check. McAlister–check. Lake Eufaula–check. Big Cabin–check. Even beyond (as we always did when I was a child) onto Interstate 44 under the McDonald’s bridge at Vinita–check.

Even though the song’s lyrics are a little dated by now (the gaming facility the song is named for has since been replaced by the Choctaw Casino–which does still host Bingo on the first weekend of each month) it is still the biggest crowd-pleaser McMurtry plays. And it should be. It’s just plain damn raunchy fun.

During Friday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, he invited the crowd to “dance if ya like” before the song, and in the middle invited some of the more vigorous of the ladies to join the band on the stage. One distracted him so much by rubbin’ on him while he played, he noted that “It’s been years since I forgot the words at this point in the song.”

“Choctaw” came fairly early in the show, and he managed to play several favorites from Aught-Three: “Red Dress” (which he opened with), “Fraulein O.”, “Levelland”, and “Too Long in the Wasteland”. He did a solo acoustic version of “Ruby and Carlos” and the full band gave us “Bayou Tortue”, “Hurricane Party”, You’d a’ Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)”, “Childish Things”, “Restless”, and “Freeway View”, all from his more recent Live in Europe album.

For some of his early between-song tuning, he just tuned quietly, but as the show got on and he could tell the crowd was into it, he popped in funny comments or political notes. Before “We Can’t Make It Here”, McMurtry noted that they stopped playing the song for awhile, but resumed because it was still relevant. As he said, “Guess it sucks for everyone but us.”

While preparing to play the rocker “Lobo Town”, he noted that all the “rural Americans” he knew growing up were Kiss fans, and so they were about to play “country music for Kiss fans.” He also quipped that there were 2 things common to the South that “Nashville doesn’t write songs about: feral hogs and methamphetamines.”

He ended the main show with “Too Long in the Wasteland”, but was called back to the stage by the first encore I’ve seen an audience actually earn in years. He treated us to a solo acoustic performance of “Lights of Cheyenne”. Probably my favorite of his songs.

All in all, a great show.

And I didn’t even have to suffer through Oklahoma for it.