There’s nothing like starting a new Austin City Limits taping season with something special. Singer/songwriters Jack Ingram and Miranda Lambert have spent time on our stage before, but not quite like this. Coming together with friend and fellow tunesmith Jon Randall, the Texas natives hit the small West Texas town of Marfa to create The Marfa Tapes, a stripped-down and intimate set of songs generated around a campfire (“to let the dust get in ‘em,” said Lambert) that could only come from a band of pals with time to kill and talent to burn. Now the trio has chosen to perform these songs in our studio, in their first-ever full-length show, a week prior to the record’s release, for a season kickoff like no other we’ve had.
“Welcome to Marfa!” said Ingram as Randall broke into the Western swing rhythm of “Two Step Down to Texas,” a jovial celebration of Austin with Lambert on lead vocals and Ingram on whistle solo. Atop their stools and under their cowboy hats, the trio shifted to waltz time for “Am I Right or Amarillo,” a Randall-led tune that sounds like a honky-tonk classic you haven’t heard in ages. “We’re so happy to be the first show back at ACL,” noted Lambert from the stage. “It’s a dream to be here. Thank you for enjoying the campfire – we hope you laugh a little, cry a little and drink a lot!” The tune “Ghost” followed, its nod to one of Lambert’s ex-paramours carried by the threesome’s stirring harmonies. Ingram took the spotlight next with the metaphorical “Anchor,” remarking that “these guys are the only ones who’d write a song with me about drowning…and love.” After elucidating some of the twenty years of history the three friends have shared, Lambert introduced the lovely single “In His Arms,” written, she said, while staring into the Marfa sunset.
The atmosphere moved from sunset to starlight, as Ingram and Lambert told the story of the group’s first night in Marfa. That resulted in Lambert’s award-winning hit “Tin Man,” which the trio then performed with round robin vocals, Randall to Lambert to Ingram. “Let’s give Jon a big hand,” said Ingram about his session ace friend. “He’s carrying a lot of these guitar parts.” The man who got his start playing guitar for Emmylou Harris in her eighties band the Nash Ramblers then explained how The Marfa Tapes was recorded: three microphones, some guitars, and a few drinks. That led into the song “Waxahachie,” a ditty that grew out of an argument over which Texas highway leads to it – an argument settled by Lambert’s mom. (For the record: it’s IH 35.) Randall then knocked out the bluesy riff for “Geraldene,” a snarky shot across the bow of a would-be predator. The trio immediately shifted gears with “The Wind’s Gonna Blow,” a close-harmony ballad that was the first tune written for the project. That led to “Amazing Grace (West Texas),” a sparse, heartfelt tribute to the locale in which the record was made.
Ingram told a story about fading into the night merely by walking away from the campfire the threesome shared, which prompted Lambert to remark, “I don’t like it when he disappears like that.” That was the genesis of “I Don’t Like It,” turning the songstress’ casual complaint into a meditation of the fragility of love. “We’re putting these songs down just the way we did in Marfa,” Lambert noted about the performance’s raw and unfiltered nature. Nobody complained, especially when Ingram led the trio into the closing time ode “We’ll Always Have the Blues.” The next song paid loving, if irreverent, tribute to the late Guy Clark by citing his classic “Homegrown Tomatoes” in a song by the same name. “We were not drinkin’ when we wrote this song,” Lambert insisted (to Ingram’s casual denial), before launching into the cheeky “Tequila Does,” a song that first appeared on Lambert’s most recent album Wildcard before finding its second home on its writers’ LP.
For the final number, the trio raised a glass to another lost legend – Austin music pioneer Jerry Jeff Walker, who passed away in 2020. That meant, of course, closing the show with “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” penned by Ray Wylie Hubbard, made famous by Walker and sung by the three friends in their best outlaw style – with a little help on the chorus from the crowd. With that rowdy exit, Ingram, Lambert and Randall left the stage, leaving behind a performance other seasons will be hard-pressed to match as kickoffs go. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station as part of our Season 47.