Now, it’s seven years later and the Nashville output is at an all-time low and is chasing whatever trend comes along unable to define itself by anything. And Jack Ingram has stepped away and gone back to his Texas roots and put out HIS album of HIS music on HIS terms.
All of this is important because it’s clear from the very beginning that none of this album would ever fly on country radio. It’s too pure and too honest. Ingram is no longer interested in whether or not Nashville cares for his music: he’s going to make the album that he wants…that he NEEDS…to make.
The album both starts and ends with “Old Motel” a song comparing love to an old motel in need of being burned down and forgotten, but it can’t be done and the abandoned love just keeps standing and no matter how hard one tries, things will keep bringing it to mind. It’s a brilliant song and the musicianship is incredible.
I want to take a moment to comment on a seeming fixation Ingram has with motels. They’ve popped up numerous times in his music over the years (similar to Josh Ritter’s recurring motif of trains). Not only is “Old Motel” the leadoff track on this album, it’s also an album titled Midnight Motel. Ingram put out an acoustic album in 20015 called Acoustic Motel (featuring an acoustic rendition of “Airways Motel” from his 1997 album Livin’ Or Dyin’. Livin’ Or Dyin’ also featured a track called “Picture on My Wall” which began with Jerry Jeff Walker commenting “it sounds like you wrote this song in some old fucking motel.” I’d be interested to know the origins of this fixation.
“It’s Always Gonna Rain” is a very quiet song about farmers waiting for rain. Layered within this song are both a voice of desperation but also of hope and knowledge that a solution will come. It’s a multi-layered song that builds to a beautiful end.
“I Feel Like Drinking Tonight” is a drinking song as is a later song on the album “I’m Drinking Through It.” I’ve read some people criticize these songs as poorly written. I find this to be quite the contrary: I think they are excellently written song when you dig into the depths of them. Like the rest of the album, these songs were written and performed on Ingram’s terms in the way he decided they needed to be recorded. I would go so far as to call “I’m Drinking Through It” a standout track on the album.
“Nothing to Fix” and “What’s a Boy to Do” are seemingly connected songs with similar structures and musical styles. They almost seem like a part one and part two. “Champion of the World” is a song about feeling like no one and nothing special but realizing that in the arms of that special someone, you’re the champion of the world and the only one that matters to him or her. It may seem like a well-used theme but Ingram’s subdued performance and the laid-back production make the song special.
You may notice I made a very glaring skip and did not discuss a big song on the album, and there’s a reason: I wanted to save it for near the end of my review. I’m going to go ahead and say that “Blaine’s Ferris Wheel” is a contender for Song of the Year. It’s without a doubt my favorite track on the album. Taken alone, the song itself is a masterpiece: to have Ingram spend an entire track before it though explaining the meaning behind the song just adds to how great it is (and ultimately how amazing this album really is – live shows and live albums will sometimes showcase an artist explaining the meaning behind a song; but never once have I heard an artist dedicate an entire studio track to discussing the meaning behind an individual song in such depth).
“Blaine’s Ferris Wheel” is a masterpiece within a masterpiece. It’s the kind of song that every time you listen to it and hear it, it hits you straight in the gut.
This is without a doubt among the best albums I’ve heard this year: it’s got everything and it’s missing nothing. Do yourself a favor and buy this album.