Record Of The Week # 115

Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall – The Marfa Tapes

These three Texans met in Marfa to perform 15 songs in an informal lo-fi setting. Marfa is known as a cultural hub in West Texas. Randall and Ingram have recording careers but here they’re sat with Lambert as part of a successful occasional writing team on her recent releases. Randall has a CV that stretches back a long way including association with Country royalty as well as being an in demand producer. Ingram’s recording output has had success but it’s his contribution as a songwriter, not least, to some of Lambert’s most memorable songs which seems his métier. If bonds were needed between the three, their composition of the multi-awarded “Tin Man” from her 2016 The Weight Of These Wings album is one; and not to forget their ability to harmonise so sweetly and their love for their home state.

It feels like a campfire setting, where armed with acoustic guitars they play through joint compositions new and old. Even if we don’t get the crackle of the fire we do get wind noise, some traffic, off mic comments and laughter. They’re easy in each others’ company as these stripped back songs reveal some memorable song writing, Lambert’s exceptional and expressive voice, and Randall’s considerable accomplishment on six strings. Each track is a complete song but there’s been no post-production tidying up and this adds to the intimacy.

“Tin Man” and “Tequila Does” getting an outing yet they’re not as good as the original album tracks and Lambert, with attendant giggles, fluffs the words. However, “In His Arms” is sensational. A simple tune where a harmonised chorus is a perfect foil to her plaintive longing for a wayward spirit who, she laments, could be anywhere in Texas. The harmonies are close again in “The Wind’s Gonna Blow” over a picked guitar. Ghosts is another gem. The lyrics reflects on the fading memory of a once important person she loved. “Two-Step Down To Texas” is western swing with a neat lyric and a tune to make you lead your partner toward the dance floor. Lambert takes the majority of the lead vocals and this stripped down sound shows what a wonderful voice she has. However, Ingram sings “I Don’t Like It”, his husky tones deliver something that you could imagine from John Prine’s catalogue. Every Lambert album has comedy and “Geraldene” is an amusing ditty about some female competition she has for her man: “you’re a trailer park beauty but you’ll never be Jolene!” To everyone’s joy Lambert breaks into a “My Generation” like stutter for the song title.

If you didn’t know it then Lambert is a remarkable Country superstar talent as a songwriter, live performer and commercial success. Here there’s an insight into the collaborative songwriting process and all the songs are gems.

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