James McMurtry is hamstrung in the studio. Indifferent production saps his hard-edged story-songs of their power, and his average album comes out somewhere between a book-on-tape and some folky compilation from those bores over at No Depression. Live, though, his gifts have no place to hide. His guitar stings with more grit than twang; the band kicks so hard you'd think they'd never heard his albums; and his voice -- throaty, ragged and set permanently to "talk" -- is right there in the middle, laying out the shitty choices this country affords its poor folks, telling how the life in these flatlands bruises and numbs, explaining what exactly you should do when you roll your El Camino and can't afford another DUI. He has claimed -- and now rules -- the ground midway between Lou and Jerry Reed, and if that don't get you headed westbound and down to Lawrence, y'all are missing out.