James McMurtry brings his gritty, Texastentialist folk-rock to the Visulite (10/17)
“I'm going to vote for Obama because now I can purchase health insurance, which I couldn't before,” James McMurtry bluntly told a Huntsville, Ala., journalist last week. Then he added, “but it appears to me the corporations are firmly in control.” That’s about as enthusiastic as America’s best contemporary protest singer — or second best, depending on how political Steve Earle’s next disc will be — is getting about the current presidential election. If you're familiar with the poignant songs on McMurtry's eight studio albums since 1989, the comment won't surprise you, because the songwriter's empathy for working, blue-collar Americans of all backgrounds far outweighs allegiance to any specific political party. McMurtry hasn’t released a set of new material since 2008, but with past albums packed with songs like the anti-provincial "I'm Not from Here," the Bush-era classic “We Can’t Make It Here,” and the terrifying tale of poverty and addiction, "Fire Line Road," he can be forgiven for resting on his laurels. McMurtry's gruff voice, gritty music and rich character sketches inspired one Village Voice writer to dub him a Texastentialist. Still, if this son of Lone Star novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove) is to maintain his status as the “truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation,” according to Stephen King, it’s about time he starts putting pen to paper and doing a little literary butt-kicking again. Until then, you can hear McMurtry sing his smart, haunting, occasionally witty and always moving stories about human struggle in all its manifestations when he performs on Oct. 17 at the Visulite. $17, $20 (day of show). 8:30 p.m. Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. 704-358.9200.