By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Like the Old 97's, Jack Ingram and his topnotch band belong to a generation of "country" musicians who come to the genre only after having tried their hands at other music: Ingram once strummed his guitar as a folkie, bassist Mitch Marine used to pound out the beat for Brave Combo, guitarist Chris Claridy broke his Fever in the Funkhouse, and drummer Pete Coatney used to Rumble. That doesn't necessarily diminish the end result--likable enough country-folk born in the city, enough references to dancin' and drinkin' and drivin' pickup trucks to prove these boys are well-schooled in the clichés and verities--but it informs the music all the same and explains how Ingram just barely escapes the Tom Waits cover ("Hang Down Your Head") and gets bogged down in the 11-plus-minute Colin Boyd contribution ("Make My Heart Flutter").
Live at Adair's was to have been Jack Ingram's Warner Bros. coming out, but that was merely a phantom deal. (Instead, Ingram is signing with Rising Tide/MCA, the new label run by his manager.) So this record, recorded last year at the venerable Deep Ellum burgers-and-pool joint with the audience reaction turned down and the fiddle turned up, gets its properly low-key release; meanwhile, it also allows Ingram a little extra practice at flushing out the last vestiges of self-consciousness that plague most songwriters who think no one's ever heard their stories before. The country-music world was a far better place before its practitioners started going to college and getting American Studies degrees, damn Lyle Lovett all to hell.
Ingram's tales take a walk on the mild side, and even though he sings them like they're the dark truth, there's always a light switch somewhere on the wall. His love songs compare life to ice cream melting on a plate, his breakup songs compare fleeing women to freight trains screaming down the tracks, and his covers paint him as the callus-covered working man he isn't. In one supposed-to-be-sad song, he tells of a childhood pal who used to collect baseball cards and steal caps; in one verse, the pal's getting his nose bloodied, and in the very next (which happens years later, a songwriter's shortcut), he's been killed "by a train without end, a train without light."
Ingram, though, doesn't cry for his old friend, but merely smiles: "Just thinkin' of that kid I used to run with," he shrugs through a grin. With no implications or morals, it's just an easy recollection told with easier emotion. Ingram's a literate man who constructs his stories and songs with a fine touch but an even finer comb, leaving his own poetry to blight ("She's gone, and I don't think she's coming back") when hung next to Tom Waits' ("Hush your wild violet/Hush your band of gold").