Though he hasn't officially released music in five years, for many of us in North Texas Jack Ingram hasn't gone away. For starters, he performs around here a lot; he's hit Plano, Dallas and Fort Worth in the past two months alone. And more importantly, he's built up an impressive catalog of songs over his 19-year recording career -- a career which started here in Dallas, for the uninitiated.
This past weekend, Ingram appeared on a new episode of the popular syndicated television show Texas Music Scene with Ray Benson. And, wouldn't you know it, he had a new song to sing. Given that it's been a whole half-decade since his last album, new Ingram tunes have popped up during his shows from time to time, but this specific song, "It's Always Gonna Rain," lends a hopeful, refreshing glimpse into what he has in store for us. And, wouldn't you know, Ingram's long-awaited album is finally slated to see the light of day early in 2015.
The Houston-born Ingram attended SMU, where he began hitting local stages such as Adair's Saloon, where he recorded a live album in 1995. He lived here as he began a full-time recording and touring gig as well as beginning a family before moving to Austin a few years ago. But before he left town, he recorded his best work to date. Though most artists surely cringe to hear such things, two of Ingram's earlier albums, 1999's Hey You and 2002's Electric simply dwarf all later albums in terms of sheer power, focus, insight and urgency.
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In 2005, Ingram hit it big commercially when he landed his first and only No. 1 single on the Billboard Country charts with the innocently benign "Wherever You Are." Such a milestone was, and still is, significant in that "Texas artists," including Ingram himself, hadn't been seen as legitimate contenders for national chart and radio success by the suits in Nashville or the media north of the Red River. Even Texas-country kingpin Pat Green, who had charted a handful of tunes before Ingram's big hit, had failed to reach the top spot, though he had come close.
From 2005 to 2009 Ingram released a live album -- which contained older songs and the new studio version of "Wherever You Are" -- and then two studio albums, 2007's This is It, and 2009's Big Dreams and High Hopes. During this time, Ingram won some awards, performed on big tours and seemed to be on his way to true, platinum-minted stardom. Each album landed a couple of mild chart successes and each of the two records had a couple of really great tracks that would fit nicely onto an older Ingram record, but when viewed in the harsh light of commercial reality, Ingram's prime period of mainstream success produced oily-slick, formulaic records that failed to catapult him into modern country music's A-list.
Ingram and his label, Big Machine Records (home to Taylor Swift) parted ways in 2011, which no doubt helps explain the length time between records. But the man is a workhorse, and he knows how to write a great song. On the new Texas Music Scene clip, he mentions that he was on his way to write some songs with Boston-based folk artist Lori McKenna (who has become a popular co-writer for Texas-based artists in the past couple years) when he read a Texas Monthly article from 2013 about drought conditions in our state have hurt the farmers of the region. After meeting up with McKenna, the two of them wrote a song from that inspiration. "It's Always Gonna Rain" is a thoughtful, quietly dramatic roots-rock song about the enduring, resilient spirit of the Texas farmer -- and, ostensibly, Texans in general.
It's a stellar example of how an artist can write a "song about Texas" without mentioning Shiner Bock, tubing, Gruene Hall, I-35 or Willie Nelson. But far more importantly, to paraphrase LL Cool J, we won't call it a complete comeback, as Ingram has been keeping busy for years. Make no mistake, however: This new song gives us long-time fans high hopes and that makes this tune a very big deal.