(Lucky Dog/Sony Nashville)
It might not be fair to blame Jack Ingram for such acts as the execrable Pat Green or a thoroughly unoriginal and clichéd newcomer like Adam Carroll, but as one of the originators of the post- Robert Earl Keen syndrome, Ingram has definitely helped pave the way for other good ol' young guys with guitars. Rising out of the Dallas bar scene with a number of self-released discs that sold many thousands of copies, Ingram didn't exactly seem like an original talent at first and even second glance. But with a strong likability factor and a canny ability to work his way upward through the system from the outside, Ingram has earned himself one and now two deals with Nashville major-label imprints, this time out on Sony's Lucky Dog label, which also records such Texan peers of Ingram's as Bruce and Charlie Robison.
Hey You isn't the arresting sort of album that such a title might imply, but it is Ingram's best effort to date. And "effort" is a fairly accurate description of one of Ingram's major musical charms. You can't help but like a guy who's sincerely trying to make music of merit, even if Hey You is basically just a solid and enjoyable collection of quality Texas country-rock. Rather than begging the Keen comparisons of Ingram's past, this disc sounds more like a Steve Earle album than did the one Earle actually produced for Ingram, 1997's Livin' or Dyin'. No doubt some of that vibe is instilled by producer Richard Bennett -- who has co-produced Earle -- and the fact that Ingram happens to sing just like Earle. Not that any of that is necessarily a bad thing, especially as Ingram makes it all sound like admiration and homage rather than shameless imitation.
Jack Ingram may not be the strongest or most distinctive singer, and he has yet to write a song that's either undeniably catchy -- his snappiest tune remains the Colin Boyd-penned "Flutter" -- or truly inspiring. But once again, his artistic solidity counts for more than you might think. Wise enough to use co-writers whose writing ability is a few notches above his own -- guys like Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider, Bruce Robison, and Tom Littlefield -- Ingram has come up with a collection of darn good, if not exactly great, songs here (including his two solo compositions, "Biloxi" and "Inna From Mexico"). He sings them with sincerity and commitment, and the whole vibe of this album is definitely the sort of stuff Nashville should be trying to get on the charts instead of the young-country crud they are currently pimping. In a time and genre in which there's little that falls between greatness and dismissible mediocrity (and worse), Hey You rates Ingram a pat on the back for trying his best. It may only be good, but at least it's good enough.
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