The jewel-like lyrics of Alex McMurray get a complementary setting

It must have been a year ago when Alex McMurray mentioned that he was thinking of starting work on a totally stripped-down CD project, just a songwriter and his guitar, although longtime collaborator Carlo Nuccio was pulling him in another direction. I left the conversation thinking that Alex would choose the super-solo project this time, and looking forward to experiencing the poetry of his lyrics unsauced.

Alex McMurray and Matt Perrine perform

Alex McMurray and Matt Perrine perform “The Woman I Love” during the CD release party for “I Will Never be Alone in This Land” at dba in New Orleans on Oct. 11, 2012

It turned out the time was right for Nuccio’s approach, but my anticipation was satisfied just the same. I am pleased to report that “I Will Never be Alone in This Land,” produced by Nuccio with horn and string arrangements by Matt Perrine, keeps the focus squarely on the songs, with the lyrics and instrumentation forming a unified whole, like the saucy roast beef on a po-boy.

The whole gang turned out for the CD release party at dba on Thursday. The core band consisted of McMurray on guitar and vocals, Nuccio on drums, Perrine on sousaphone and Bill Malchow on keys. During the first part of the show there was also a horn section, with Joe Cabral and Martin Krusche on saxophone, Charlie Halloran on trombone and Eric Lucero on trumpet.

dba, however, was not a great venue for this show. The crowd there seems inclined to participate, either by dancing or talking, and since this wasn’t really a dance party, well, that leaves talking. I can’t imagine why so many people focused on their own conversations paid even a $5 cover for a show presenting unfamiliar compositions by a singer-songwriter noted for clever turns of the phrase, but there you have it. I may have to go see McMurray again on Thursday at the Saturn Bar, to do it up right.

McMurray will be going to Europe for a week at the beginning of November. Local gigs before then include:

  • Sundays, Oct. 14 and 28, with Bill Malchow on the House of Blues patio, 225 Decatur St., 3-6 p.m.
  • Sunday, Oct. 14, with Bill Malchow, before and after “Treme” at Buffa’s, 1001 Esplanade Ave., 8-11 p.m.
  • Wednesdays, Oct. 17 and 24, with The Tin Men at dba, 618 Frenchmen St. 7-9 p.m.
  • Thursdays, Oct. 18 and 25, at the Saturn Bar, 3067 St. Claude Ave., 10 p.m.
  • Sunday, Oct. 21, with Debbie Davis at Three Muses, 536 Frenchmen St., 8-11 p.m.
  • Friday, Oct. 26, with Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show at the Voodoo Music Experience Preservation Hall Stage, 5:15 p.m.

I said it was all about the lyrics, right? It seems only right for me to attempt to present them to you.

“I Will Never be Alone in This Land”

I will never be alone in this land

I will never be alone in this land

I will never be alone while I’m trying to go back home

I will never be alone in this land.

I’ve been trading time for change in this land

I’ve been trading time for change in this land

I’ve been trading time for chump change

There’s some things I’ve got to rearrange

But I will never be alone in this land

(band kicks in)

I’ve been running to beat the band these days

I’ve been running to beat the band these days

I’ve been running to beat the band, over rocks and trees and sand

But I will never be alone in this land.

And all the world is sad and dreary

Everywhere I roam

Carlo Nuccio performing with Alex McMurray during the CD release party for "I Will Never be Alone in This Land" at dba on Oct. 11, 2012

Carlo Nuccio performing with Alex McMurray during the CD release party for “I Will Never be Alone in This Land” at dba on Oct. 11, 2012

We all wanna be ready in this land

We all wanna be ready in this land

Yeah, we all wanna be ready

But we got to try to keep things steady

And we will never be alone in this land.

(John Mooney)

All the world is sad and lonely

Everywhere I roam

We all want to be ready in this land

We all want to be ready in this land

Yeah, we all want to be ready

Now if I can just keep things steady

Then I will never be alone

I just might find my way home

I will never be alone in this land.

“As Long as You Let Me”

Going to do my dance up on the roof, sing my song

Frighten my neighbors who haven’t met me yet

I’ve got a feeling today, a feeling so strong

I’ll love you as long as you let me

I love you for the secret smile we share

You’re there for me when no one seems to get me

I’ve got a feeling today, a feeling so strong

I’ll love you as long as you let me (guitar solo)

I’ve got a feeling that can’t be wrong

The on-stage set list for Alex McMurray's CD release party for "I Will Never be Alone in This Land" at dba on Oct. 11, 2012

The on-stage set list for Alex McMurray’s CD release party for “I Will Never be Alone in This Land” at dba on Oct. 11, 2012

I’ll love you as long as you let me

I love you for the way you feel real deep inside

When you stare into the future

This train’s got a long way to go

So take my hand

I’ll love you as long as you let me

This train’s got a long way to go

So climb on board

I’m going to love you as long as you let me.

“All My Rivers”

I found my dollars from Mardi Gras day

Guess I had it all squirreled away

Gonna take it on the town

I’m gonna throw the dog around

Because all my rivers is running right

I’ve been dancing in double time

Something’s making everything rhyme

Tie a rag upon your head

Do it ’til you’re almost dead

Because all my rivers is running right.

C’mon boys, strike the band

Been this way since the world began

C’mon baby, dance with me

Like it was meant to be

Something’s grinnin’ up in my head

I got the trees in my boutonniere

Fill your pockets up with dreams

Til they’re bursting at the seams

Cause all my rivers is running right.

(Jon Cleary)

C’mon boys, strike up the band

It’s been this way since the world began

C’mon baby, dance with me

Like we was meant to be

Something’s grinnin’ in my ear

I got the trees in my boutonniere

Fill your pockets up with dreams

Til they are bursting at the seams

‘Cause all my rivers is running right.

“One Step Away from the Hole”

And now we see you handing out your mischief

And folks will pin a dollar on your shirt

Tomorrow when I smell you in my jacket

I’ll gather up those dollars from the dirt

Before you realize the dice are loaded

Before you know it’s someone else’s game

The trap for you is set

When you get free from that net

You’ll spend a lifetime clearing up your name

‘Cause you’re one step away from the hole

Yeah, you’re one step away from the hole.

You like the cards you’re given

But you had better fold

‘Cause you’re one step away from the hole.

Behind the bleachers everybody’s falling

And everybody blames the referee

The ones ain’t busy falling, is busy climbing

Why don’t they want to come down from their trees?

‘Cause they’re one step away from the hole

Yeah, they’re one step away from the hole.

There ain’t a one among them

who’s ready for this role

And they’re one step away from the hole.

I work the chain farther down my ankle

I move the collar up around my neck

My wrists are red and raw

I can’t forget the things I saw

Perhaps someone will pull me from the wreck

‘Cause I’m one step away from the hole

Yeah I’m one step away from the hole.

The drinks are pretty cheap here

But you pay with your soul

When you’re one step away from the hole.

“Me and My Bad Luck”

Me and my bad luck just hit town today

Down  the road so many times, ain’t nothing left to say

Kick me out the doorway, leave me in the rain

Always in my business but I never know his name

Tells me I’m his only boy, but it ain’t the same

As a hook to hang my hat or a place to lay the blame

Me and my bad luck come around

Someone’s doing dishes in a dirty dining car

Someone’s making wishes on a 30-cent cigar

Someone’s standing in the rain, wishing on a star

Someone, somewhere, wants to know where all the people are

Bad luck reassuring me he never will be far

I can’t find him in the morning when he’s hidden my guitar.

Me and my bad luck come around.

(horn party)

Me and my bad luck, we been on a roll

Lost all our muscle and we wash up on the shoals

It’s getting so I wonder just who is in control

Who will pay the ticket, and who will pay the toll

Bad luck disappears on me, falls into a hole

And every time I get the bill he goes and takes it on a stroll

Yeah, me and my bad luck come around

I take him by the collar, put his hat upon his head

Hold him in the river ’til I’m sure that he is dead

Put a bullet in his eye and fill him full of lead

Put him in his dying bed.

Will I say a prayer for him, or do a dance instead?

The things that bad luck said.

Me and my bad luck come around.

“The Get Go”

He was a flunky from St. John’s pit

He told himself that he was through with it

So tired of drifting and bumming around

He thought he’d take it to another town.

She was a chippie from Chicago

The only place she’d ever seen before

She does her drinking from a jar

She keeps beneath the seat of the car

She like to hit it from the get-go.

Old Cassandra and Pollyanna

Lived together on their father’s land

All of the neighbors, one by one,

shoot out the stars and sleep in the sun

You know, in life there ain’t no accidents

Flunky creeping up along the fence

Flunky, he crossed Cassandra,

So he never thought of it no more

He got to hit it from the get-go.

It ain’t your business to reason why

You got to go before you die

You got to hit it from the get-go.

(Brian Coogan, organ, and Ben Ellman, harmonica)

Roll the credits and fade to black

Flunky never gets his dollar back

Settle down and take his key

Every evening watching busted TV

There’s a message coming from the screen

You got to listen to the in-between

He’s got to finish all his chores

To get to what’s beneath the floor

He got to hit it from the get-go.

“The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

I rode out west with a double-O crew

I rode in the style of the double-O too

I was tall in the saddle, sick in the soul

I’m the man who shot the man who shot Liberty Valance

I cake-walked clear across Wisconsin

Backwards with my high heels on, son

They saw me shaking by the saloon

And I couldn’t xxxx

I used all of my skills, all of my talents

The man who shot the man who shot Liberty Valance.

So tie me upon my horse

‘Cause if I lose my balance

I’ll never get out of this town alive

String me up or cut me down

It’s all the same to me

Ten pounds of pain in a size nine boot

Bury me now in a mohair suit

There’s just one thing all dead men know

Don’t double-cross dressed as double-O

I was the fastest gun west of Tarzana

The man who shot the man who shot Liberty Valance

“Beneath the Rain”

What would you do to hear the fat man sing?

Would you walk through fire?

Would you do anything?

And what would you give to see the emperor dance?

To begin, you got to live in a certain trance.

And what would you give to hear the golden chef,

Hear her laugh on the line, up in the treble clef?

That laugh could cut you down, kill you where you stood

But I swear it’s always there when I am feeling good

All that’s good, all that’s sweet beneath the rain

I see it every time you look my way

I see it every time you call me friend

On down the road until the end of the day.

I went to the Aardvark

I went looking for you

And they sent me to Charlie’s, and I went there too.

They said you went to Molly’s and I turned away

I thought that I would see you on some other day.

So tell me, what is the scene on the golden shore?

Do you stay up all night? Baby, do you walk the floor

And let your thoughts drift over gentler days,

The breeze up in the trees running off the summer haze

All that’s good, all that’s sweet beneath the rain

I see it every time you look my way

I see it every time you call me friend

On down the road until the end of the day.

I couldn’t believe you saw me with those eyes.

“I Can’t Wait ‘Til They Turn my Baby Loose”

I can’t wait ’til they turn my baby loose

‘Til she’s walking out the door

All is forgiven, and I know

She will soon be giving me everything I’m hoping for.

I’m lurked outside this barroom every night

I can hear laughter out of any crowd.

And when it’s closing time, I’ll feel her hand in mine

And off we’ll go together in a cloud.

Ain’t it a pity, on an evening so pretty

A man must learn to dance alone

Underneath the old oak tree, I can dream she’s here with me

And we’re dancing close and slow.

And now the band is saying nighty-night

Try to get them out the door, but it ain’t no use

They’re gonna sing another song

I’m gonna have to wait a minute longer

Until they turn my baby loose

Ain’t it a pity, on an evening so pretty

A man must learn to dance alone

Underneath the old oak tree, I can dream she’s here with me

And we’re dancing close and slow.

And now the band is saying nighty-night

Try to get them out the door, but it ain’t no use

They’re gonna play another song

I’m gonna have to wait a minute longer

Something about the evening has got the power to seduce

So, don’t you get my meaning, I ain’t trying to confuse

I just can’t wait until they turn my baby loose.

“Texas Again”

Nine years wasted with the cold running through me

Throw my pants on the fire

The shadows stretching away to forever

The boys are about to retire

The smell of the diesel, the feel of the damp

Come to be my only friends

I’m holding steady, but I ain’t near ready

To go back to Texas again

Sometimes it seems like a lifetime or two

Since we wrote our names in the sky

Drove all night with the moonlight upon us

Made love while the mockingbirds cried

And how would I know that one day you’d go

Just as easy as counting to ten.

I’ll love you forever, but I thought I’d never

Go back to Texas again.

Texas again, where the wind doesn’t see me

Texas again, running through the same fire

Texas again, where I knew I was the same old liar

Keep your coat, boys

Let me be.

I thought my rambling soon would run through me

Somehow, it never let go

One day I woke on the dry side of life

And I knew I’d be always alone.

Well the next train I know is heading to San Antone

And I stopped for a moment, and then,

Well she’s pulling away

I can wait one more day

To go back to Texas again.

Texas again, where the wind doesn’t see me

Texas again, running through the same fire

Texas again, where I knew I was the same old liar

Keep your coat, boys

Let me be.

Keep your coat, boys

Set me free.

“Otis at the Wheel”

Now hear this!

The ringmaster’s gone.

He has been relieved.

Give me a round

To put you in the book

But do not be deceived.

Gather up your trumpets, gather up your wits

You’re leading the parade

But the Lord is coming down the telephone line

Saying, “Do not be afraid.

Bring all my children up to heaven.”

Now Tiny and me, get things straight, apples in the fall

I’ve cleaned all the cages, I’ve gathered up the gate,

I’m a cannonball.

There’s a gal in the midway who shouted to the wind,

You said “Take me where you go.”

Well there’s always a place for a Winchester girl

In a Wild West Show.

Just take your bullets to the straw man.

Well someone lit a fire on the stock car floor

Starting up a stampede, open up the door

Circus train’s a-rolling to the Sarasota shore

With Otis at the wheel.

Faster, faster, faster, faster!

Yeah, we’re grinding up the gears, there’s a fire in the box

And the bells are ringing

Well, Tiny is a goner, the boy is no good

That just leaves me and you

We’re locomotives screaming through the Ocaloosa woods

Tell me, what you gonna do?

This train is lifted up to heaven

Someone lit a match on the stock car floor

Started up a stampede and opened up the door

A hundred miles an hour on the Sarasota shore

With Otis at the wheel

“Diamonds in Your Hand”

The ones that nearly drive you up a wall

Will be the ones to catch you when you fall

And when you run away, they can find you any day

You can never hide forever from a friend

The ones who have some chore for you to do

Will be the ones to tell you what is true

And even when it hurts

When they drag you through the dirt

They’ll be the ones who make you whole again.

The ones you love are diamonds in your hand

So hold them just as tightly as you can

The bitter will be sweet

You only got to treat the ones you love

Like they’re diamonds in your hand.

You don’t come by a diamond every day.

They’re sometimes very far away

But whenever you’re alone and your boats are full of stones

Just remember there’s a diamond shining somewhere.

You can take these diamonds everywhere you go

You can hide them in the lining of your coat

And when your coat grows thin, you can cash your diamonds in

As long as there’s a  little left to share.

The ones you love are diamonds in your hand

So hold them just as tightly as you can

The bitter will be sweet

You only got to treat the ones you love

Like they’re diamonds in your hand.

The ones you love,

They’re diamonds in your hand.

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