Throughout a recording career that has spanned more than 20 years, Jack Ingram has maintained a reputation for uncompromising, personally charged song craft and energetic, charismatic performances, earning him prominent stature in a prestigious tradition of iconoclastic singer-songwriters. Ingram’s prior work has won him a fiercely devoted fan base as well as reams of critical acclaim, and now Midnight Motel marks a creative milestone for the veteran artist, his sound ever evolving while showcasing some of his most expressive, emotionally raw songwriting to date.
Ingram made Midnight Motel independently to avoid outside influences and have creative freedom to write and record. “It was really important to me at this point in my life to avoid thinking about any commercial decisions about the music,” explains Ingram. “Every night after my kids went to bed, I’d go into my music room and stay in there until about three or four, just working out the songs like I did at the beginning of my career. Or while on the road, sit up late at night writing in motel rooms. I wanted to bring people into that space with me.”
And so Midnight Motel turned into an album that is as real and honest as it could be. “Signing with Rounder Records to release this album was a perfect fit because of their expertise and love for good music, no matter the genre,” Ingram says.
His eighth studio album, and his first since his 2009 smash Big Dreams & High Hopes, Midnight Motel features spare, stripped-down instrumental arrangements that highlight the intimacy and urgency of such new originals as “I’m Drinking Through It,” “Nothing to Fix,” “Can’t Get Any Better Than This,” and “All Over Again.” The album’s organic late-night vibe is perfectly suited to the material, and brings out the emotional edge in Ingram’s deeply felt vocals.
Midnight Motel was cut with Ingram and the musicians recording live in the same room, with minimum overdubbing or sonic trickery. With understated audio-verite production by fellow Texas singer-songwriter Jon Randall and a stellar studio band including guitarist Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan, Arc Angels) and drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Dire Straits), along with bassist Robert Kearns and keyboardist Bukka Allen from Ingram’s longstanding Beat Up Ford Band, the 11-song set demonstrates how Ingram’s artistry has widened and deepened over time.
“I couldn’t have made this record when I was 25, because I just didn’t have the experience then,” he asserts, adding, “It’s kind of a concept record, but it’s a loose concept. There’s the late-night thing, and the travel, and then there’s the concept about not letting go of the important relationships, even if they’re not working. These songs are all about loving, troubled long-term relationships, whether it’s with the music business or my wife or my family.”
The road to Midnight Motel has been a long and sometimes rocky one for Ingram, who was named Best New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 2008, despite the fact that he’d already been rocking honky tonks, theaters, and stadiums for a decade and a half by then. He began writing songs and playing gigs while studying psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and quickly earned a rabidly devoted audience while performing high-energy live shows in bars and roadhouses throughout his home state.
Ingram’s remarkably loyal fans enthusiastically embraced his early, independently released albums Jack Ingram, Lonesome Questions, and Live At Adair’s. His indie success helped to win him acceptance within the Nashville major-label mainstream, and he expanded his constituency with such acclaimed national releases as Livin’ or Dyin’, Hey You, Electric, Young Man as well as the live albums Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, Live at Gruene Hall: Happy Happy, and Acoustic Motel.
Ingram moved to the Big Machine label with 2006’s Wherever You Are, which spawned a pair of major country hits in the title track, which became his first Number One single, and its Top 20 follow-up, “Love You.” His next studio effort, 2007’s This Is It, hit the Top Five on the U.S. country charts and produced a trio of hits in “Lips of An Angel,” “Measure of A Man,” and “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely.” Big Dreams & High Hopes followed two years later, spawning five chart singles, including the Top 10 “Barefoot and Crazy” and the Top 20 “That’s A Man.”
For Midnight Motel, Ingram was looking to create something different. “Something inside me was itching to do this,” he recalls. “The pressure in my chest was just so heavy that the only way I could get it off was to write these songs. Frank Liddell, who produced my record Electric in 2001, gave me some great advice: he said, ‘Go away and do something great while no one’s looking.’ That became my motto for this project. I just decided that I was just gonna do the best work I could do, and have it take as long as it takes. I didn’t care about trying to be technically perfect; I just wanted to be emotionally available. I can honestly say it was the best recording experience I’ve ever had. The waters got rough, but I really had a ball and enjoyed navigating that course.”
Rather than shooting conventional music videos to promote Midnight Motel, Ingram and noted filmmaker Michael Tully (Ping Pong Summer, Septien) have created a short companion-piece film incorporating the album’s songs and featuring Ingram as a troubled troubadour. The short film was screened at both the Dallas International Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival.