by Robert Bell
James McMurtry's tune "We Can't Make it Here Anymore" has garnered the singer/songwriter a lot of attention since its release on his 2005 album "Childish Things," particularly since the Great Recession began grinding jobs and lives into dust back in 2008. The title is a double entendre, referring to both the diminishing prospects of the middle class in America and the dwindling manufacturing jobs that made such lives possible.
In a recent post on his blog titled "We Can't Make it Here Naivete," McMurtry elaborated on the song a bit in light of reading a New York Times story about how iPhones are produced, and why, in so many words, we can't make them here. Factory hands in China toil around the clock for low wages. At gunpoint, workers extract precious metals from the ground in the Congo, metals that eventually become bundles of tiny circuits in your pocket, transmitting the ephemera of your day-to-day life to other bundles of tiny circuits in other people's pockets. "We can't make iPhones in this country because we don't want to tolerate slavery within our own borders," he wrote. "So we outsource our slavery."
It's the rare musician who'll examine his own work in so frank a manner and put it in a real-world context like that. But if McMurtry's proved anything in the last many years, it's that he is just that: a rare and thoughtful songwriter. In terms of sound, his highly enjoyable 2008 album "Just Us Kids" is pretty indicative. He draws influence from the winding lyrical poetry of Bob Dylan, the down in the groove rocking of Tom Petty, the sardonic bite of John Prine and the plainspoken everyman appeal of John Mellencamp. But McMurtry always puts his own stamp on it. He's one of the best singer/songwriters going.
Jonny Burke opens the 18-and-older show with some excellent roots-inspired, swaggering power-pop.