Jack Ingram's fifth studio release, his second for Lucky Dog, continues the hybridization that the Sony imprint has worked with Charlie Robison, The Derailers and BR549. The pairing of Texas roadhouse-tested Ingram with producers Frank Liddell (Lee Ann Womack, Chris Knight's Nashville-stacked debut) and Mike McCarthy has edged the singer-songwriter away from the grittier work of his previous albums. The drums and bass are louder, the lyrics more pedestrian and the vibe more mainstream rock 'n' roll punch than honky-tonk twang.
Production touches like the over-driven electric coda tacked onto the acoustic blue-gospel "Pete, Jesus and Me," and the oddly shifting vocal treatment of "Goodnight Moon" are more distracting than mesmerizing. The rootsy edge of Ingram's voice still anchors the CD, but his lyrics leave behind the quirky characters that provided earlier story hook, and the studio full of session players cast their inevitable normalizing shadow. The lack of "band" is especially disappointing for an artist who's made so much of his road show.
Guest artists provide a few nice contributions, including Patty Griffin's harmony vocal on "What Makes You Say," Bukka Allen's keyboards, and Jim Lauderdale's lyrical support on "One Lie Away." But even combined with Ingram's natural talent and charisma, they can't overcome the album's overworked sound. Lucky Dog's previous attempts to broaden Texas acts from their cult status have produced interesting results, if not always commercial dividends. With Ingram, their effort feels colorless, stripped of some of the most interesting characteristics (and characters) of his music.