Out Here

Reachin' above your raisin'

Livin' or Dyin'
Jack Ingram
Universal Records

Crossin the Line
Barry Kooda
Big Iron Records

Each of these albums represents a longtime local musical mainstay continuin' to develop past his point of origin. For Kooda, it's that of one of Dallas' founding punks; for Ingram, it's that of a college-boy dilettante--"punk" in a very different sense. Both albums are good, but Kooda's is the work that rings true. The former Nervebreaker has long been aware of the similarities between hard country, punk, and his personality--equal parts redneck individualist, joke-cracking traveling salesman, and troubadour. Crossin--built upon Kooda's contributions to the Cartwrights' second unreleased album--features a deep-country edge that supports a gentler version of his perverse sense of humor. The guy who used to sing "I'm Sorry I Killed You" ("'cause now I am in jail") has found room this time to deliver touching odes to a daughter growing up ("Daddy's Little Girl"), regret, and his version of the graveside weeper, "If You Ever Change Your Mind."

Which is not to say that Kooda's turnin' into a weenie. He shows the old smirk and gleam in his eye when he tackles backslidin' ("Twelve Steps") and "Texas' Newest Millionaire," which gleefully informs a former love of lottery success. Kooda also slips into upbeat cowpunk and social commentary; with a few aptly chosen--and surprisin'--covers, this is a well-put-together disc (inexplicably more popular in Seattle than here) that accurately reflects its maker.

Which is more than you can say for Livin' or Dyin', which sounds pretty much like its producer, Steve Earle. Of course, Ingram--long the unsalted potato soup on the local country scene's sideboard--would be a fool not to work with Earle, and this is probably a necessary step in the development of an artist who came to singin' and songwritin' the way other people find a dollar bill. Livin' is by far Ingram's best album, with high points aplenty: "Nothin' Wrong With That," (which sounds like "Sweet Li'l '66" and about a dozen other Earle songs), a rockin' sputterin' cover of Colin Boyd's "Flutter," and an excellent Xerox of Guy Clark's "Rita Ballou." But just when a thumpin' version of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)" gets you thinkin' that Ingram might just pack the goods, he goes and blows it with a bullshit faux-chummy duet with Jerry Jeff Walker--the eminence queso of progressive country and a guy who would wear a bright pink bunny suit on stage if Energizer would only pay him enough. When you're as impressionable as Ingram, you should pay attention to whom you hang around with.

--Matt Weitz