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 longterm 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.
In country music, a last name like LeDoux casts a big, storied and bittersweet shadow, but it’s one Ned LeDoux doesn’t mind standing in one bit. Having been a drummer in his dad Chris’ band Western Underground since 1998, Ned knew from an early age that he had “no plan b” but to play music, “Once I got the taste of the road, and being in front of a crowd and just the sound of it, it was...freedom.” When his dad passed away in 2005 from cancer, Ned continued to tour with his father’s band to keep the musical spirit of Chris LeDoux alive. This drove him to pick up the guitar and try his hand at some of his dad’s songs. It started with “Rodeo Man,” and before long Ned had a whole catalogue of his father’s early hits ready to play. When the other band members heard Ned’s voice, he found himself front and center singing at the shows. Stepping out from behind the drums stirred something inside of Ned that he hadn’t felt before, “It’s a different kind of rush, getting up with a guitar and standing behind a microphone...shoot I’m getting butterflies thinking about it right now.” The timing couldn’t be more right for Ned to pick up a guitar and belt out “Western Skies;” it has been over 10 years since Chris LeDoux passed and he believes people want to hear something new. Ned has boxes of song ideas his dad never finished and is digging through those for inspiration, “I will kind of stick with what dad used to do but bring my own stuff to the table.” In July of 2015, Ned traveled to Nashville with some of those unfinished songs and met up with Mac McAnally to put that inspiration to work. Mac produced Chris’ last two studio records and wrote his hit “Horsepower,” so the collaboration with Ned was a natural fit and lead to the first new Chris LeDoux co-write in nearly two decades. His latest song “Brother Highway” is about all the time he has spent on the road touring with various bands since his days in high school. Ned says he doesn’t even need a road map anymore–that he and the highway are like brothers. He wants to write songs about what he knows, keep the themes simple and harken back to the sound of good ole country music but with an edge. Eventually Ned plans to release an album of new material and include a few of his dad’s songs re-recorded in his own style as a tribute. For the last year, Ned has been steadily touring and opening for acts like Toby Keith, Chris Janson and Randy Houser. Yet now that he is in front of the mic, Ned has a new goal. “There’s an age group who doesn’t know who Chris LeDoux is and I just want to keep his name out there. I want to reintroduce him to people who’ve maybe heard of him but didn’t know what he did. Just carry on his legacy and carry on his music and at the same time show them what I can do.” On tour, you’re guaranteed to hear “This Cowboy’s Hat”–the song most requested by his fans and a request Ned is honored to oblige. His personal favorite song to sing though is one called “You Can’t Tell Me We Ain’t Got It All.” It’s the first original song Ned co-wrote with his dad and seems to pick up right where Chris left off. And thankfully there is more to come as there is a new voice to carry on the LeDoux sound.
The son of acclaimed author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment), James grew up on a steady diet of Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff records. His first album, Too Long in the Wasteland (released in 1989), was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill. In 1996, McMurtry received a Grammy nomination for his Longform Music Video of Where'd You Hide The Body. 1997's It Had To Happen received the American Indie Award for Best Americana Album. Never one to rest on his laurels, James McMurtry continues to tour constantly, and consistently puts on a "must-see" powerhouse performance. 'The Washington Post' noted McMurtry's live prowess: "Much attention is paid to James McMurtry's lyrics, and rightfully so: He creates a novel's worth of emotion and experience in four minutes of blisteringly stark couplets. What gets overlooked, however, is that he's an accomplished rock guitar player. At a sold-out Birchmere, the Austin-based artist was joined by drummer Daren Hess and bassist Ronnie Johnson in a set that demonstrated the raw power of wince-inducing imagery propelled by electric guitar. It was serious stuff, imparted by a singularly serious band."
Songwriter. Guitarist. Singer. Bandleader. At only 21 years of age, Marcus King’s dazzling musical ability is evident throughout The Marcus King Band, the young phenom’s 2nd full-length LP and first for Fantasy Records. Operating within the fiery brand of American roots music that King calls "soul-influenced psychedelic southern rock," the album highlights King’s gorgeous, rough-hewn vocals, soaring guitar work and heartfelt songwriting all amidst a group of masterful musicians who, together, are quickly becoming one of the country’s most sought after live acts. Raised in Greenville, South Carolina, King was brought up on the blues, playing shows as a pre-teen sideman with his father—bluesman Marvin King, who himself was the son of a regionally-known guitarist—before striking out on his own. Going beyond the sonic textures of his acclaimed 2015 debut album, Soul Insight; The Marcus King Band broadens his sound, touching upon everything from funky R&B to Southern soul and Americana in the process. His band gets in on the action too, stacking the songs with blasts of swampy brass, a lock-step rhythm section and swirling organ. Ever the multi-tasker, King bounces between several instruments, handling electric and acoustic guitar — as well as pedal and lap steel — while driving each track home with his soulful, incendiary voice.
Veteran singer-songwriter David Ramirez (who Paste once called "The best damn songwriter you don't know yet") was nothing short of magnificent during his performance at Live From The Divide. The room of 50 hung on every heart wrenching note Ramirez delivered "I've learned a lot from being alone and isolated," says Ramirez, who until recently toured completely by himself, without a band, manager or anyone else for company. "Yes, it's romantic in a way. But it has also been kind of rough on my head and my heart. After a while it made it difficult to connect with people on a personal level when I got home. In hindsight, I can see that it's been kind of detrimental. You know, when you travel around alone for months at a time, the world revolves around you. There's no one else in the equation. Everything was just about me. It's a selfish way of living. And I'm ready to move on from that."
Bonnie Bishop started her career as a country rock singer-songwriter from Texas. After arriving in Nashville, Bishop began writing and performing. She received awards and recognition and In 2012, Bishop's idol Bonnie Raitt recorded her song "Not Cause I Wanted To" The album went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album in 2013 . With all this success Bishop was hitting the road hard playing 200 dates a year. After a grueling 14 years of touring and after taking an extended break from her career in music, award-winning producer David Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson) signed her to her first record deal at the age of 36. Convinced Bishop should be singing soul music he told her that he wanted to make a Muscle Shoals-type album on a female. And that's exactly what they did with her latest's 'Ain't Who I Was'
Kevin Russell is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, and banjo) based out of Austin, TX. After years of fronting alternative country band The Gourds in 2013 Kevin formed Shinyribs. Kevin Russell’s musical journey began in Beaumont, TX when, at 14, he found that he had a strong affinity for the guitar and songwriting. After being shown just a few chords he began writing his own songs.
Paul Cauthen is a singer-songwriter that grew up in Tyler, Texas. His grandfather was a songwriter and also led music for the local Church of Christ congregation. This is where Cauthen and his two sisters learned to sing harmony. After his grandfathers passing Paul wrote his first song and discovered that songwriting could be an outlet for his deepest thoughts and feelings. It is not easy to pigeon-hole Cauthen's music into a generic 'country' genre. It's blues, gospel, honky-tonk with a strong dose of rock-and-roll mixed in there. Just listen to those vocals!
Sunny Sweeney is breath of fresh air. Not only is she powerful enough to command any stage, she is a bad ass songwriter. All the while maintaining a healthy dose of humility and approachability that draws her fan base in. That level of approachability has worked against her in the past with some not so welcome advice from fans. Yep, she wrote a song about that as well. Her flair for frankness can be plainly heard in her songs which never leaves you guessing how she really feels about something. Jewly Hight from NO DEPRESSION describes her perfectly.
"That stubbornness definitely comes through in her singing; in her vinegary directness and occasional bold-faced sarcasm; in her knowing, straight-on phrasing and how little use she has for flowery embellishment; in the undiluted, hardcore twang of her timbre and its resistance to the leaven of pop, rock, or R&B influence.“This drunk guy at a bar one night goes, ‘Girl, you need to take that clothespin off your nose,’” she testifies. “And I said, ‘I borrowed it from Willie Nelson. It’s doing fine for him.’” -Jewly Hight NO DEPRESSION
The Whiskey Wolves of the West are a newly formed group created by Leroy Powell and Tim Jones based out of Nashville, TN. Together these two create what Tim Jones describes as a southern rock Simon and Garfunkel. Both Powell and Jones have each experienced success as songwriters, studio musicians, and band leaders capable of doing just about anything they want musically. Luckily for us they have joined forces to bring us their high and lonesome sound.
When it comes to American-Roots music know one walks the walk like the Band of Heathens. Every member has the unique ability to write songs, arrange harmonies and come up with hooks that will leave you wanting more. Just looking at the overall musicianship of these guys is staggering to say the least. With an impressive 7 albums under their belt the Band of Heathens show no signs of slowing down. Gordy Quist laid out some sage advice regarding not getting "stuck" that I'd like to share with you. He uses the analogy of inputs & outputs to unpack the daunting task of keeping yourself creatively inspired. I'd also like to add that I am paraphrasing a bit so make sure you listen to podcast to hear the discussion in its entirety.