Off the Soapbox
James McMurtry, the Austin singer-songwriter, is generally regarded as a political force. His George W. Bush-era rant “We Can’t Make It Here” was a Camp Casey classic. But on his new album out Tuesday, Complicated Game, McMurtry trades in the electric guitar for the acoustic and his gritty murmur for delicate enunciation to create a batch of mostly tender songs about the people and places he’s encountered while touring. “I kind of backed off from the straight-out political stuff, which I never did that much of anyway,” McMurtry said. “I don’t really like to get on a soapbox. I like to weave social commentary into my songs and once in a while remind you that we’ve got a war going on.”
Fans of McMurtry, son to famed Lonesome Dove novelist Larry McMurtry, can catch two hometown CD release shows next week: a solo performance at the Continental Club Gallery on Tuesday and a full-band gig at the Continental Club on Wednesday. Complicated Game, McMurtry’s first studio album in six years (though he wrote most of the songs in the last two years), was recorded in New Orleans and features a bunch of backing musicians, including Ivan Neville (Aaron Neville’s multi-instrumentalist son), Benmont Tench (keyboardist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and Derek Trucks (formerly a guitarist in the Allman Brothers Band). There are four banjo players, including his son, Curtis, who plays on the opening track, “Copper Canteen.”
McMurtry self-produced his past five albums, but for this one he enlisted the producers C.C. Adcock, whose Lil’ Band O’ Gold recently backed Robert Plant on tour, and Mike Napolitano, husband of the folk singer Ani DiFranco. They in turn brought in the vocal coach David Forman. “We wanted to take it a little further than I’d taken it before,” McMurtry said. “That one song ‘She Loves Me,’ where it kind of breaks into falsetto a little bit—I’ve never used that before.” Forman’s advice to McMurtry was to “let your belly hang out” while singing. “My live shows have improved since then,” McMurtry said.
The Continental Club Gallery & The Continental Club, Feb. 24 at 8:30 p.m. & Feb. 25 at 12 a.m., jamesmcmurtry.com
Love and Swordfights
It is said there must be fifty ways to leave your lover. Romeo and Juliet have, since William Shakespeare brought them to the stage in the 1590’s, pretty consistently departed one another the same way: a double-suicide prompted by broken hearts. And while that probably won’t change for choreographer Stanton Welch’s interpretation of the play, the Houston Ballet’s first updated staging of the production in 28 years, it certainly means new twists on an old classic. These include wardrobe changes by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, the Italian costume and scenic designer, who has color-coded the attire of the Capulets and Montagues and made actors don headpieces, which were historically worn as a symbol of one’s status. Welch’s production, part of the Houston Ballet’s forty-fifth season and an extension of last year’s four-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, also puts more emphasis on the action sequences. “It is full of sword fights,” Welch said in a promotional video. “Intricate sword fights. Violent, fast, dangerous sword fights.”
Wortham Theater Center, Feb. 26 to March 8, houstonballet.org
Sixty years ago, James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor first made Marfa cool when they began filming George Stevens’s classic take on Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel, Giant. The movie, though largely an oil epic, was also, more subtly, a study in race relations between Anglos and Mexican-Americans. The Austin filmmaker Hector Galán explores this relationship in Children of Giant. This reflective documentary will enjoy its world premiere at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s thirty-seventh annual CineFestival, an eight-day event surveying the best in contemporary U.S. and international Latino films, with Galán in attendance along with former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, who narrates the movie. The screening will open up the festival, which also includes the films Squeezebox, about Manuel Casillas, the mysterious South Texas accordionist, and Fugly, John Leguizamo’s innovative take on the comic actor Jesse Sanchez.
Guadalupe Theater, Feb. 21-28, guadalupeculturalarts.org
Adam Richman of the TV show Man v. Food has an iron-clad stomach that can withstand the hottest of foods, including the dreaded ghost pepper. But even he would probably be no match for Braulio Martinez, who once downed a record-setting 141 jalapeños in fifteen minutes during the Jalapeño Eating Contest at the annual Jalapeño Festival. Other events at this year’s thirty-seventh homage to the Mexican pepper, topped off by two nights of live music, include a waiter’s race, a tug-of-war competition, and a contest to determine the best grito, which is basically the Mexican equivalent of the American cowboy’s “yee-haw.” Proceeds from the event benefit a scholarship in the name of the Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla, who played the festival shortly before her March 1995 murder.
El Metro Park & Ride, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. & Feb. 21 at 5 p.m., wbcalaredo.org
In 2012, West Hansen, an ultramarathon canoe racer from Austin, led a 111-day, 4,200-mile paddling expedition traversing the Amazon River, along the way combatting “storms, pirates, narco-traffickers, devil fish, strippers, huge waves, adversaries, ocean liners, barges, weak coffee, massive tidal currents, illness, and interpersonal struggles,” and on Saturday he will recount how he made it out alive with the premiere of his documentary Peeled Faces on the Amazon.
Stateside at the Paramount, Feb 21, 7 p.m., theamazonexpress2012.com
You can look but you can’t touch the attractions in “Framing Desire,” an exhibition of videos and photographs by the likes of Larry Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ryan McGinley, Catherine Opie, and Cindy Sherman, whose works will be divided into three categories: Ages, comprised of portraiture; Rooms, depicting architecture and interiors; and Scapes, filled with landscapes and events.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Feb. 21 to Aug. 23, themodern.org