No twang? No problem

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

Published June 23, 2008


When country rocks this hard, can you still even call it country? Jack Ingram seemed like the guy with the answers at his near-capacity show at Joe's Bar on Friday night.

Technically, Ingram is country. Just won the Academy of Country Music's best new male vocalist award, in fact. But with three guitars, one set of drums and a lot of hard-charging pop-leaning songs, what rose to the top was anything but tradition. And the dry ice and flashing lights didn't feel very rootsy, either. He threw the occasional "ain't" and "y'all" into the mix, even name checked Hank Williams and introduced himself with, "My name's Jack Ingram and I play country music." For the better part of the 90-minute concert, though, Ingram flat out rocked and rolled.

His set list was a mix of fiery tunes from his decade spent as a Nashville-by-way-of- Texas artist. Big radio hits such as "Wherever You Are," "Love You" and "Maybe She'll Get Lonely" turned into crowd shout-alongs, and Ingram's cover of Hinder's "Lips of an Angel" felt like a very polished-up cheatin' song. The beat of the band remained steady all night, while Ingram's vocals swayed from smoky brooding to soulful tenderness.

Seeing Ingram on his own stage, instead of that of Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride or some other hotshot headliner, cemented his status as a viable star in country, right down to his tattered chambray shirt and the wallet chain on his jeans. Even without the twang, the fiddle and the steel guitar, Ingram's alt-country take on the music fell on open-minded fans eager to embrace any and all kinds of country.

Before he took the stage, rookie artist Ashton Shepherd opened the show with her own 45-minute set of self-penned songs that are destined to be the anthems of young motherhood. This Alabama native has a sunny way of singing about laundry, dirt roads, no-good husbands and pints of Crown Royal. And she showed no signs of new-girl nerves or stiffness. She looked so at ease on stage—belting her lyrics so flawlessly—that it was almost as if we'd caught her singing into her bedroom mirror. When performing comes that naturally, the stage is set for a lifetime of great gigs.


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