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With Electric, Jack Ingram pulls out everything but the plug

By Brian Baker, June 2002

Drop the disc in the tray and press 'play' on Jack Ingram's new album, "Electric," and you'll hear the snarling, nasty choogle of a guitar that sounds like a dead ringer for T. Rex's late guitar icon Marc Bolan. From the chugging rock of "Keep On Keepin' On" to the rock-smoked honky tonk of "We're All In This Together," "Electric" proves that it's worth its wattage, and that it more than deserves the title it's been given.

"That's kind of the point," drawls Jack Ingram of the amped up atmosphere on "Electric." "This is my third major label record and my sixth overall. It's hard to explain...this record just sounds the way I feel. I wanted that to be clear from the start. I wanted that intensity to come through musically."

On those occasions when Ingram backs off from the full frontal sonic assault, the intensity he cherishes and wishes to impart is equally apparent, even in the quieter and more subtle passages. And even though he knew what he wanted going into the sessions for the new album, Ingram had very few preconceived notions about how that might manifest itself.

"I haven't yet gone into make a record where I knew the starting point and the finishing point and what I wanted exactly," says Ingram. "I wanted the music this time around to sound exactly the way I feel, which is intense and analytical and looking at different issues of the human condition. And I wanted to create some type of separation between myself and what is labeled as Texas music, because I think that label is binding somewhat. When people talk about Texas music, my name gets brought up, and part of the way this record sounds goes into how I feel which is trying to look at issues on a little bit deeper level than just beer and Texas. That's not what I do."

What Ingram does do is embrace the true ethic of country music. Whether or not he happens to be adhering to its sonic cornerstones at any given moment is beside the point.

Jack Ingram's desire to make music was born in his exposure to the great country storytellers, everyone from Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall to Hank Sr. and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.

Ingram's normal Houston upbringing set the stage for him to start picking out Willie Nelson tunes on an acoustic guitar while working on his psychology degree from Southern Methodist University. Rather than pursue a career to accompany his diploma, Ingram answered the roadhouse call and began performing around his home state on any open night.

Ingram's tireless work schedule eventually brought him to the studio where he recorded a trio of indie country albums that earned him a rabid audience and the respect of his fans and an increasing number of his musical peers, including Steve Earle, who produced Ingram's fourth album, "Livin' or Dyin'."

The album, released on Universal's Rising Tide imprint, brought Ingram a whole new level of major label attention, and he seemed poised to step up and seize the moment.

But before the album could muster even the slightest bit of momentum, the Seagram's acquisition of Universal forced the elimination of the Rising Tide label, and Ingram was ultimately deleted from the roster.

Fortunately, old friends Charlie and Bruce Robison had signed to Sony's newly formed Lucky Dog label and suggested that someone take a look at Ingram as well. Easily sensing his potential, Lucky Dog signed Ingram almost immediately.

Ingram's Lucky Dog debut, 1999's "Hey You," packed to the rafters with rock-tinged honky tonk and fearless country attitude, was almost universally praised as one of the year's country music highlights, but that critical attention didn't automatically translate into either radio play or sales units.

Although Ingram admits to a certain amount of premeditated deliberation over "Electric's" direction as a means to attract a better radio and retail response, he has clearly never seriously thought in those terms and wasn't about to start with his sixth album.

"On an artistic level, 'Hey You' was a grand success," says Ingram. "It was critically acclaimed. Musicians liked it. My fans liked it. It was a big record for me in my career. The one thing that was missing was widespread sales. So, as an artist and just as a person trying to make the next record, well...you know how we act. When we get praise, we want to do that again. People loved 'Hey You.' From that point of view, you'd think, 'Let's keep on the right path.' But as a guy signed to a record label and wanting to sell records and get label support, you think, 'Should I change? Should I do

things differently because it didn't sell a million copies?' And those were all the thoughts that went into the next step and the next record. And, as has always happened before, I thought about all that stuff and then went in and made my record the way it needed to be made for me."

In the end, Ingram's simplicity and honest work ethic carried the day as he considered his options for "Electric." Even though he felt like he had to consider all of the possibilities beforehand, at his core he knew what the final decision would be.

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