Y’all want country? Here it is. In its most perfectly imperfect form.
Add in a heaping dash of Texas twang for good measure, and you have the the long-awaited final project that is The Marfa Tapes from Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall and Jack Ingram.
It’s FINALLY out today, and I hardly even know where to start because it’s that good.
The whole concept for it began on a writing trip to Marfa, Texas, last September, when the trio of Texans were visiting their usual cabin in the middle of nowhere, just trying to get away from the craziness of the world and take a step back.
Jon had convinced Miranda and Jack years prior that Marfa was the place to be to get inspired and unlock creativity. They first wrote two tracks there years before you might recognize, “Tin Man,” and more recently for Miranda’s Wildcard album, “Tequila Does.”
Then, flash-forward to September when Miranda’s mom went to visit them in Marfa. Like any good southern mama, she made dinner for everyone, and while they waited to eat, the three of them went and sat in her car and played old demos and voice memos they created over the period of time since they began visiting Marfa.
That’s when it hit them, Miranda said in another interview, that The Marfa Tapes needed to happen:
“It felt like all three of us would be really sad if these songs never had life.”
And thank goodness for it. They put out five tracks in the lead-up to release, “In His Arms”, “Am I Right or Amarillo”, “Tin Man”, “Anchor” and “Geraldene”.
Full of variety and a taste of the different shades the entire album would bring, it was the perfect appetizer to hold everyone over.
And luckily for all of us, they filmed most the process, too. They’ll premiere an accompanying documentary, produced by Miranda, tomorrow on her Facebook page.
I’m not going to talk much about the tracks that were previously released, but rather focus on a few of the new ones that showcase the most brilliant parts of this project.
Starting with “The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow,” which is a duet between Miranda and Jack. Some of the lyrics paint such a heartbreaking picture of accepting the end of a marriage and knowing when it’s time to let go:
“I used to make you love me
Laugh and want to touch me
Now I drink alone and cry at my own jokes
Your halo’s in the dresser drawer
I don’t wear my ring no more
The kids, in time, will learn to love us both”
Then, there’s “Waxahachie”, which is pure Texas country in every sense of the writing and sound. It finds Miranda wondering how long it will take her to make it back to Waxahachie, Texas and what the drive might be like now.
She’s debating whether or not it’s worth it to make the long-haul yet again, “an all-night drive” as she puts it, and if she’ll find that love again should she decide to go back. You can hear her remark at the end “I love that one”, and I have to agree, it’s pretty damn good:
“Nobody ever left New Orleans
As mad as I was
I wrote a lipstick letter on the mirror
With a bourbon buzz”
Next up on the track list comes “Homegrown Tomatoes,” which is a play on the song of the same name by Guy Clark. They mention him in the chorus, too. It stands out purely for its change in tempo among a lot of slower-paced tracks.
If you wanna know what it’s about, well, even they don’t exactly know. You can hear the funny exchange at the end:
“‘That was a fun one!’, ‘What’s that song about? I don’t know!’ ‘It’s about homegrown tomatoes…'”
There’s another upbeat one you need to hear called “Two-Step Down To Texas” that I absolutely love. It’s a honky tonkin’ song that sounds like old country music, featuring mainly Miranda’s vocals. She’s suggesting that, should her guy ever make it down to the lone star state, she’ll be waiting there with her “cowboy hat and wine,” and I have to laugh, because how Miranda is that?
She names off several Texas bars and venues in the song, and I can only imagine how fun this one would be to hear live at Billy Bob’s or Gruene Hall. They all sound like they’re having so much singing it and you’ll be equally amused listening to it, I promise.
Of course, there is one previously released track that I can’t help but talk about. And that would be “Tequila Does,” the boozy, sassy, uber-fun track about how no one can love Miranda like tequila does. They included it on this album in it’s raw form, but you can also find it on Miranda’s most recent studio album Wildcard.
The best part about it being on this project is that the production of it lends itself even better acoustically and in West Texas, I think. Hysterically, you can hear border patrol fly over at the end of the song, and Miranda told Rolling Stone it happened:
“Right in the middle of it, you couldn’t have made that up!”
It just drives home the beauty of the way they recorded these and the unexpected things that come along with stripped-down music in its purest form.
The last one I want to talk about is the closing song, “Amazing Grace (West Texas)”. When I first read the track list for this album a while back, I really didn’t know what to expect from this one. I didn’t know if it would be a Texas rendition of the classic hymn or something totally different.
Turns out, it’s something totally different, but shares a similar sentiment. Look at the chorus:
“The church bells ring in the little bitty towns
And the people come from miles and miles around
Just to hear that old piano feed their faith
With the word of God and Amazing Grace”
The three of them take turns with solos and harmonizing on the chorus, singing about the struggles and triumphs people experience in West Texas, but really, small towns everywhere. It’s one of the best songs on the entire album.
Jon, who came up with the idea of the song and crafted a lot of the lyrics, says of it:
“That’s one of those songs where it captures something that was happening. Nobody was digging in their soul or pulling up skeletons and digging up bones. It was a magical and honest moment.”
The album is essentially a singer/songwriter’s album. The quality of writing cannot be overstated. When paired with just an acoustic guitar and three professionals who want the others to shine and compliment each other so well, it’s nothing short of magical.
They did have engineer Brandon Bell join on the 5-day recording process with professional equipment, to ensure that you really could every sound and comment as purely as possible. The muffled iPhone memos couldn’t quite accomplish everything they wanted to.
Funny enough, when they first arrived to start such a lofty project, Miranda told The Tennessean the house they stayed in was:
“Nothing fancy, but magical.”
Ingram chimed in, noting they wanted even that, too, to be as exposed and bare as possible to ensure authenticity all the way around:
“There’s nothing there to hide anything. Being that vulnerable for all of us is part of the point.”
I think they accomplished everything they wanted to and more here. It was an experiment of sorts, a trial, a way to break away from the routine way music is created and try something new.
It’s rare for a star of Miranda’s caliber to even think about attempting something like this, much less pass the test with flying colors, which in my opinion after listening to the entire thing, she did. Another important thing to note is the fact that she brought Jon and Jack along with her for every bit of this journey, and they all pretty much share equal billing on all the credits and the album cover.
That’s a large part of this project I love so much. The fact that she exposed so many people to them, who would probably never listen to their music or know who they were otherwise. Jack, who had a little bit of mainstream success years ago and tends to be a bigger part of the music scene in Texas these days, and Jon, who has put out a little bit of his own music but is usually behind the scenes more as a writer and producer.
The odds that we’ll ever get a tour or anything resembling that for this project from Miranda and company again is not likely. With touring dates and live music coming back, she noted before that it probably won’t happen, due to the sheer fact that they’re all so busy with their own careers.
She wants this to be the “live” version, the way you connect with them and feel every bit of the songs in their rawest, most genuine capacity. But, when pressed on the idea of more by Texas Monthly, she said it’s not something they’re opposed to at all:
“I don’t know what kind of doors this is going to open. I hope it opens doors for volumes two and three. Because if people love it and respond, then we keep doing it.”
As a country music fan, I couldn’t be more thrilled that they decided to share these songs with the world. And, when it seems like people are craving real and authentic experiences now more than ever, it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
It’s hard to really sum up something this unique. I’ve read other pieces and seen other comments about how the best part about the project is that rawness I keep mentioning. The fact that you can hear cows mooing and planes flying in the background as they sing and play acoustically is not a usual thing to hear on such a huge, buzzed-about album.
And certainly, there’s a lot of truth to that. But to me, the absolute best part about it is the fact that stripping everything down to its purest form forced them to be honest. It’s the most honest, meaningful record, at least in the mainstream, I’ve heard in a long time.
The heart-wrenching honesty is everywhere. In their voices, in the lyrics, in the acoustics of the recordings… you can’t escape the experience of how real it all is. After all, that’s precisely what country music should be— three cords and the truth.
I know Miranda was referring to the house when she said it wasn’t fancy but it was magical, but the same could be said about this absolutely stellar record this trio has put out.
It was nothing near fancy in any way… and nothing short of breathtakingly magical in every way.