Artist: Jack Ingram
Album: Midnight Motel
Release Date: 08/26/2016
Despite a career that spans some 20 years and eight studio albums, Jack Ingram’s name has never really figured amongst the other icons who have carved reputations from similarly rootsy realms. There have been other Texas troubadours who ploughed the same fertile turf — Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Waylon Jennings and the like — but Ingram’s is a singular voice, an artist equally adept at sharing the broader insights that reflect on the minutiae of everyday experience. To his credit, he gives a shout out to several dozen of this contemporaries here, courtesy of candid spoken narratives that often unexpectedly bridge the space between the songs. Ingram probably wouldn’t object to being labelled a good old boy in that sense, especially when considering the fact that these rough-hewn arrangements and his sturdy though solitary expression are so consistently compelling. They allow him to cast a forlorn glimpse at the things that are so intrinsic to everyday existence — love, relationships and the solitary pursuit of stability and success.
Ingram’s certainly traipsed that path before. He’s been with big labels and he’s also gone DIY. He’s had major country hits even though he’s never exactly been considered an upper tier marquee name. Indeed, it’s been nearly seven years since his last outing, Big Dreams & High Hopes, a veritable eternity in the fly-by-night world that is the musical mainstream. As he himself concedes in the accompanying press materials, Midnight Motel was the record he was itching to make, given that he was able to do it on his own terms. The fact that he’s newly signed to Rounder Records, a label with ample experience at nurturing artists with singular sensibilities, helped underscore his acumen, resulting in a set of songs that are both heartfelt and achingly expressive.
In that sense, there’s not a song on the album that doesn’t underscore that resolve, be it the straight forward sentiments of “Old Motel,” the solemn subtext of “It’s Always Gonna Rain” or the confessional tone and tears in the beer balladry of “I’m Drinking Through It.” Likewise, the one-two punch of “Nothing To Fix” and “What’s A Boy To Do” offer life lessons that are both emphatic as well as ultimately optimistic. “Don’t write a song/That you wouldn’t sing,” he advises on the former while echoing similar sentiments on the latter. “Don’t Shine what you can’t wear out/Don’t think what you can’t say out loud.” And lest anyone doubt that optimism, he lays all doubt to rest with “Can’t Get Any Better Than This” when he offers this truism: “You don’t ever miss the sunshine when you dance out in the rain.”
In a very real sense then, this is Ingram’s most authentic effort to date, and not surprisingly, it’s also his best. Hopefully it won’t take another seven years for him to capitalize on this cred.
– Lee Zimmerman