St. James Episcopal Church, Jan. 14
If there are any pitfalls to the concept of Austin's Strings Attached, it's that Will Taylor's group can at times overwhelm the artists they work with. A match with A-town's feral songsmith James McMurtry, then, posed an interesting question. Would he bland out or would they turn it up and meet him in the middle? A spin of McMurtry's magnificent new album, Childish Things (Compadre), offered an easy answer. On it he's branched out a bit from the guitar, bass, and drums he uses live to include fiddle, organ, and horns, each an important part of Strings Attached. In front a nearly full church, Taylor's quintet opened the performance with a couple of jazzy originals that flaunted the act's impressive ability to work as an ensemble. McMurtry was then introduced and immediately put any fears to rest by pronouncing half seriously, "Remember, if it's too loud, you're too old." Ringing with tunes from Childish Things and with Strings Attached augmented by Ronnie Johnson, McMurtry's bass player, the altar at St. David's rocked like it seldom, if ever, has before. One thing Taylor's group is best at is bringing out undiscovered nuances from the songs of others, and the String-benders' magic was in full bloom, especially on the two-stepping "Memorial Day" and a jam that approached liftoff in the middle of "Choctaw Bingo." With the church's refined acoustic setting, McMurtry's lyrical genius his ability to grasp distinct moments of time was explicit on acoustic versions of the lonesome "Lights of Cheyenne" and fervent "Holiday." The encore, electric protest "We Can't Make It Here," a roaring fiddle fueled freakout, served as the perfect nightcap for a hallowed helping of art and grit.
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