According to his liner notes, Jack Ingram
's Young Man
is a compilation of recordings of some of his earliest written and performed songs. Admittedly, there is little sophistication in them, but there are also few of the clichés and snide witticisms that have saturated -- and even hampered -- his most recent work now that he is a bona fide star of the lost-in-its-own-identity Americana genre. What these songs contain is a magic not often found on records: there is a feeling of reverence in these tunes, and of gratitude for being able to do this at all -- not only to write and sing songs, but to be able to document them with a band and backing vocals in a real studio. That naïveté makes up for any small clumsiness in phrase or execution. In fact, those "mistakes" on this set are not only charming, they are captivating. Evidence of this is on the very first cut, "Beat Up Ford." For all of the familiarity in its title, in the grain of Ingram
's voice one can actually hear the iconographic images it evokes in the songwriter. Ingram
is laying out an archetypal truth of traveling like there is actually some destination to get to, when the inside of his pickup on the back roads is really all there is. Recalling a mentor and the new sense of possibility that was provided by him, he is transformed into a man of soul and imagination still inside the cab of the truck.
"Sight Unseen" is a slightly sophomoric tome about faith in everyday life and seeking the truth beyond the pale. While it sounds pretentious, it is anything but. A pastoral piano line graces its melody and Ingram
delivers his lyric with understatement and grace. In the hands of some Nash Vegas superstar not only would this be a hit, it would make an awesome video. "A Song for Amy," despite its bulky synth lines, is one of the more simple, beautiful, and evocative country love songs to come down the pipe in quite a while. "Drive On" is supposedly an evocation of the quiet power and emotion in Larry McMurtry
's Last Picture Show; while it doesn't touch the novel, it really isn't supposed to. In its way, it offers a stark and haunting portrait of characters caught in the throes of life's unfolding circumstance. The honky tonk swing in "Lonesome Question" features amazing uncredited pedal steel and fiddle parts. Not all of these songs work, of course; "Still Got Scars" is too heavy-handed, as is "Younger Days," where lines and images feel forced to fit the theme of the tune. But "Tuesday Night," with its folksy country rhythm and dovetailed electric guitar, underscores Ingram
's tight lyric. "Workin'," written after a period of listening to masters Kristofferson
, is just plain bad. The guttersnipe live rock & roll of "Travis County" evokes both the electric toughness of Steve Earle
at his snottiest and John Prine
's sense of humor and rhyme. In all this is a tender gem in the rough, of interest not only to Ingram
's fans but to those who like to hear music close to the bone of the source of inspiration -- even when that source and the skill aren't quite in sync yet.