American Country Rock singer-songwriter Jack Ingram has been round the block a few times in his twenty-year plus career. In this time he has established a solid fan base and garnered much critical acclaim with what his website describes as 'uncompromising, personally charged song craft and energetic, charismatic performances'. Jack has also enjoyed success in the US Country charts and 'Midnight Motel' is his eighth album, seven years on from his last release, 'Big Dreams & High Hopes' in 2009.
For this latest album, it was Jack's intention to maintain his independence in the studio and go for a raw, immediate and sparse sound that would serve his current material in as authentic manner as possible.
Accordingly, the songs were recorded live with Jack and the band in the same room and had few overdubs or post recording tinkering. The core studio band included Charlie Sexton on guitar, Chad Cromwell drums, Robert Kearns, bass and Bukka Allen, keyboards with other guest musicians adding further instrumentation across the tracks.
Jack himself of course played guitar and sang and the songs are a mixture of originals, co-writes and a few covers. Lastly, the album was recorded and mixed by Brandon Bell, produced by Jon Randall and mastered by Don Cobb.
Track one, the Blu Sanders penned 'Old Motel' comes in on a few seconds of recorded chat in the studio before the thump and crack of the drums announce the songs arrival proper. Some sweet guitar and bass pushes things along with a gruff, resigned vocal from Jack that conveys the real sense of loss and regret found in the lyrics. He has a strong country rock voice and the way he drops his voice slightly at the end of some of the lines put me in mind a little of Steve Earle.
'Its Always Gonna Rain', a Jack Ingram and Lori McKenna co write comes in slowly but effectively on a simple guitar strum and vocal as the band slowly build towards the chorus. This is a commercial, radio friendly song and boasts a real killer chorus. However, again, more studio dialogue is tagged on to the end of the track and here I think it really ruins the atmosphere and effect built up over the previous five minutes or so. To a lesser or greater extent, studio dialogue and little bits of outtake instrumentation are present throughout the record and for me this ends up feeling intrusive and detracts from the undoubted quality of the performances. I am all for hearing the creative products of musicians having a good time in the studio; I just do not want to hear them having it. It is a bit like being the only one sober at a party and eaves dropping on others private jokes!
'I Feel Like Drinking Tonight' is a Jack original and another that starts in spare manner with his guitar and vocal and the band layering in effectively. A familiar 'drinking' theme of course but this song has a particularly good vocal from Jack and some very fine harmonies.
Track four 'The Story of Blaine' is just that, a song length spoken studio conversation in which Jack tells the story of Blaine, interspersed with some 'on the road' anecdotes. The song 'Blaine's Ferris Wheel' that essentially sets to music that which Jack has just told the listener in the previous track follows this.
'Nothing to Fix', a Jack Ingram and Natalie Hemby co write is one of my favourite songs on the album, chugging along on a lovely acoustic riff and tight drums with a sweetly conversational vocal. Another great song I think and put me rather pleasingly in mind of Guy Clark.
This is followed by further stand out track, 'What's A Boy To Do', all shuffling rhythm, precise fills, understated vocals and the hookiest of choruses.
Will Kimbrough's 'Champion Of The World', is Jack at his most confessional, voice right on top of the mix singing in the listeners ear and the song also showcases some gorgeous slide playing with every rattle, scrape and resonance beautifully captured in the recording.
'I'm Drinking Through It', is touted as the albums lead track and certainly sounds very immediate and commercial and I imagine it quickly becoming a live favourite if it isn't already.
This is followed by 'Can't Get Any Better Than This', a sublime song from Jack, splendidly performed by all involved and wielding a real 'ear worm' of a chorus. With the piano and keyboards to the fore, the whole sense and feel of this track conjures up lovely musical images of The Band. Great stuff indeed.
The album draws to a close with the quiet existential reflections of 'All Over Again' and a lovely acoustic reprise of the opening track 'Old Motel'.
I like this album a lot. All the songs, be they originals, co writes or covers, are strong and share a cohesive sense of common ground and shared purpose. Jack has a great country rock voice and the playing by the band throughout is exceptionally tight and expressive, but always in service of the songs. Factor in fine recording and production values and it all adds up to a fine package indeed.
The only negative for me is the dialogue between tracks as I think it really does detract from the music. I have looked on Jacks website, Amazon and other online retailers and as far as I can make out an MP3 download version of the album is available without the dialogue, but not a CD. However, I have also checked out some other reviews and it does not seem to bother anyone else greatly, so perhaps it's just me!
I do not want this criticism to detract in any way from the album though, which really is very good and these songs caught live with this band would be something special indeed.
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