Texas singer/songwriter James McMurtry, known for his hard-edged character sketches, comes from a literary family; his father, novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, gave James his first guitar at age seven, and his mother, an English professor, taught him how to play it. McMurtry began performing his own songs while a student at the University of Arizona and continued to do so after returning home and taking a job as a bartender. When it transpired that a film script McMurtry’s father had written was being directed by John Mellencamp, who was also its star, McMurtry’s demo tape was passed along, and Mellencamp was duly impressed, serving as co-producer on McMurtry’s 1989 debut album, Too Long in the Wasteland, which landed McMurtry a deal with Columbia Records.

McMurtry spins stories with a poet’s pen and a painter’s precision. Such vibrant vignettes consistently turn heads. They have for more than 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.”