Jack Ingram

Saturday, November 1; Off Broadway

Oct 29, 2003 at 4:00 am
Over the past ten years in Texas, outlaw country has been displaced by baseball-cap country, and opposition to the musical establishment, once symbolized by Willie Nelson's orgiastic picnics, not to mention some imperishable songwriting from the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Willis Alan Ramsey, has mutated into the conformist frat-boy claptrap of Pat Green and Cory Morrow. You think Nashville sucks? With their witless homages to every Lone Star Greek's fantasy -- horses, burritos, strippers, beer -- this new breed of Texas singer/songwriters make Toby Keith seem major by comparison.

Don't blame Jack Ingram for growing up in Houston and going to college in Dallas at roughly the same time as the post-Lyle Lovett gang. He's smarter and tougher than his peers -- and he rocks. All but abandoning the ersatz honky-tonk of his first five records, Ingram's latest release, Electric, combines Stonesy guitar grind with more than a few moments of scathing self-criticism, not to mention a dive or two into Tom Waitsian Salvation Army Band jive. Ingram is no Townes, nor does he pretend to be. Somewhere between Steve Earle's working-class lyricism and John Mellencamp's small-town romanticism, Ingram's songwriting gives an equally fierce glance to anthemic hopefulness and darker matters of the heart. His finest song, "You Never Leave," describes a failing relationship held together by the singer's certainty that only he could end it. With a final, classic country twist of the screw, his lover ultimately abandons him, but the singer was still right -- her memory remains and will never leave. His records have always been strong, if little known outside of Texas; on stage, though, Ingram's charm and talent are full-blown and undeniable.