Sunday, 23 December, 2007 11:40 PM
CMA: Jack Ingram Ponders Life's
Lessons on 'This Is It'
BY DAVID MCCLISTER
Machine recording artist Jack Ingram.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
"This world is tough
and we all know it," said Texas firebrand Jack Ingram, unapologetically.
"Music is my touchstone. For me, songs that turned a line never
made me cry, but songs about people's lives."
His voice, raspy from
throwing his whole soul at what he sings and then talking about
it to anyone who'll listen, drifted off. He didn't need to complete
the thought. It was, after all, obvious.
The truth is that with
his first No. 1 for last year's "Wherever You Are," stints
opening for Brooks & Dunn, Sheryl Crow and Brad Paisley, his
upset win of the CMT "Wide Open Video of the Year" for
the Top 10 single "Love You," anointment from Mediabase
as Most Played New Artist of 2006, and This Is It, his breakout
Big Machine Records album, debuting in the Top 5, whatever Ingram
is doing seems to be working.
It's hard to believe
it began with a friend's father's copy of Willie Nelson's Red Headed
Stranger, which Ingram heard when he was just 17. "That was
all we listened to for two straight weeks," he remembered.
"Very simple but very, very real - and the more you listen,
the more that stuff cuts through all the circumstances, right to
the basic emotion."
Distilling the essences
of life has been Ingram's standard since he signed with Rising Tide
in 1996 and later with Sony/Lucky Dog Records, which in 1999 released
his album Hey You featuring the snarling "Mustang Burn"
as well as "Biloxi," a jagged song of reckoning from an
abandoned teenage son to a returning father. But this once brash
young man, now a tawny-haired guitar slinger, is seeking broader
It's not so much that
he's mellowed. Rather, he's lived and, in living, seems to have
found a deeper place from which to write and record.
"The thing I experienced
when I heard Red Headed Stranger, or Born to Run, or Guy Clark for
the first time is that sense of immediacy, the realness of it,"
he explained. "I want people to experience that when they hear
Certainly his more recent
hit single, "Measure of a Man," moves beyond the bitterness
of "Biloxi" toward resolution as the song's hero realizes
that wisdom can be achieved by striking out on his own, putting
his faith in another and knowing there are many paths and truths
on the way to adulthood. It also proves that growing up and settling
down don't necessarily mean giving up one's edge.
Always a Texas maverick,
Ingram drew from Nashville's top session players for This Is It,
a move akin to burning the Lone Star flag in certain circles back
home. "How do you go in there without walking over the line?"
he remembered thinking. "These are the best players in the
world, but what I want is their emotion. If I could get them to
feel it, then I knew I was going to be fine."
Whether embracing the
complicated, sexually tangled triangle of the Oklahoma band Hinder's
"Lips of an Angel" or the raving kiss-off "Love You"
(which means anything but), Ingram found ways to incinerate a dozen
songs about a fully engaged life. It's not preaching, nor is it
empty swagger; it is, simply, the view from where Ingram stands.
"I first saw Jack
when Rising Tide brought a bunch of us out to a showcase in Arizona,"
said Lon Helton, Country Aircheck publisher and host of "Westwood
One's CMT Country Countdown USA." "And you could tell
then, it wasn't a matter of if but when. He always knew how to connect
with people. It was just a matter of getting him on a label where
they understood what he did and had the time to devote to getting
it across to the audience."
Until then and to this
day, Ingram has roamed between what's considered mainstream Country
and the roots high ground that artists such as Crow inhabit.
reacted exactly like mine did for the 10 years previous to this
current step," Ingram said. "Her audience buys Johnny
Cash's American Recordings, and I think when they saw us, they were
connecting with that part of what we do. They recognize the roots
of my music from the most basic places."
And also the most personal
places: This Is It includes "Ava Adele," a pretty ballad
that seems like the ultimate love song to a woman with the power
to bewitch. In a way, that's true, since Ingram wrote it about his
"I know," he
said, laughing over the fact that even angry young men can embrace
sentimental realities. "It's funny coming from the guy who
wrote 'Biloxi,' the guy who used to make fun of those kinds of themes.
But I think I'm talking a lot about commitment and being there for
your people. That is pretty universal, whether you're blue collar,
white collar or no collar."
That willingness to evolve,
to embrace life's deeper moments, intensifies what Ingram does.
That seems to be true
for Ingram, whose career has unwound over pretty extreme peaks and
valleys. There were times, especially in the wake of his Sony/Lucky
Dog deal evaporating, when he had to walk on faith, believing there
was something worth pursuing just around the bend.
"Every time the
transmission blew, the engine broke down or the gig sucked, there'd
be two people who got it," he recalled, speaking with the vehemence
that informs so much of his music. "Two out of the five folks
some nights - and those people kept me coming back, playing music,
believing in the dream.
"I saw so many folks
who were on the radio who didn't care like that, selling millions
of records - and they didn't mean it. Sitting outside my mechanic's
office, I remember thinking, 'I am not going to be that guy.' For
the most part, it was passion, remembering those two people. But
that kept me playing when there was no reason.
"And I knew I was
right," he insisted, recognizing now that his hope wasn't grounded
in illusion. Then he laughed and admitted, with a rakish turn in
his voice, "That's where the spite comes in. If it kills me,
I'm gonna prove I'm right."
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