Photo by David McClister
After years out of the spotlight, Jack Ingram is back with one of the best musical efforts of 2016. A deeply honest and down-to-earth project, Midnight Motel is an absolute masterpiece, from its intricate lyrics to its rugged production. In some ways, Midnight Motel is a concept album, and in others, it thrives off different thematic elements. It’s truly excellent, and makes it more than easy to welcome Ingram back to the scene.
The album kicks off with “Old Motel,” which may just be the project’s finest moment. From its deep, textured guitars to Ingram’s moody vocal, to the rowdy melody, it’s a gem of a track, and a wonderful ambassador for the rest of the content that follows. The album is built around the foundation of story songs. “Blaine’s Ferris Wheel,” another contender for top-track, is a well-written, personalized song that is enhanced by the inclusion of studio banter, an aspect of the album that contributes greatly to the overall quality. Midnight Motel aims for full-listener engagement, and including the studio conversation adds a layer of depth and intricacy, fully engaging the listener and making them feel like a part of the album, not merely a spectator.
Too often, songs are built around title hooks, and rarely go further than a catchy chorus. While the hooks and melodies are notable throughout Midnight Motel, they’re not the core of the album; that would be the detailed, yet personal lyricism that highlights the vast, vast majority of the tracks. Some recordings, while rooted in Ingram’s personal life, will feel likable and relatable to many listeners. “Champion of the World” is a touching tribute to his wife, and one that many will be able to connect to. Similarly, while simple in nature, “Can’t Get Any Better Than This” is both charming and warm, making it a fluffy-yet-enjoyable listen. Ingram found the formula for blending anthem-esque qualities with intricacy, and performed it to a tee.
What makes this such a special project, even more so than the elements already covered in detail, is Ingram himself. Ingram finds the right vocal tone for each subject matter, finding an appropriate performance style for melancholy, nostalgia, love, or heartbreak. It speaks to his capacity as a performer, that he can take on such a variety of stylistic differences behind the mic, and do each in such a competent manner. His vocals are warm, appealing, and made to feel like his performance is directly to the listener.
Midnight Motel takes a simple, less-is-more approach that pays off big time. Nothing flashy, nothing complicated, just music, and emotion. It’s a raw masterpiece that serves as a textbook example of making music you want to make. It’s from the heart, it’s country, and most of all, it’s damn good. If anyone in country music circa 2016 can top this one, I would certainly like to hear it. Welcome back, Jack Ingram. It’s been too long.
Listen below and grab Midnight Motel on iTunes: