The Marfa Tapes

Jack Ingram / Miranda Lambert / Jon Randall

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The Marfa Tapes Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Miranda Lambert struck up a relationship with fellow Texans Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in the mid-2010s, collaborating with the pair of songwriters on songs that appeared on her 2016 double-LP The Weight of These Wings and its 2019 sequel Wildcard. The place the trio wrote their songs was Marfa, a city in west Texas. By the time they released The Marfa Tapes in 2021, Marfa had turned into something of a high-end tourist attraction, but the spirit that runs through this rough-hewn record belongs to the old Marfa and its (relatively) nearby cousin of Terlingua, a town immortalized by Jerry Jeff Walker. It's possible to hear echoes of Jerry Jeff on The Marfa Tapes, but only because it's firmly within the tradition of Texas troubadours: it's spare, dusty and soulful, an album designed for a long, reflective sunset. The trio cut The Marfa Tapes at a ranch outside of Marfa during the fall of 2020 with the intent of capturing 15 songs they'd written in the past few years in the fashion they were written. "Tim Man" and "Tequila Does" are revived from The Weight of These Wings and Wildcard, respectively, and they join a bunch of other songs that didn't make a Lambert record for one reason or another. The results are striking. The simple, near-demo quality of the production doesn't just lend The Marfa Tapes intimacy, it helps the music hang outside of the confines of time. Perhaps Lambert, Ingram, and Randall are playing with old Texas traditions, but the primary way their classicism surfaces is in how they've written songs designed to endure. As a songbook, it's excellent, but it's equally effective as an album, as the trio harmonize and pick guitar with an emotional immediacy that gives The Marfa Tapes a warm, resonant immediacy.

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