Following the example of Robert Earl Keen, Jack Ingram has filled the Texas singer-songwriter tradition with enough rock 'n' roll punch and enough comic punch lines to grab the attention of the state's frat-boy crowd. Ingram isn't as good a lyricist as Keen, but he's a much better singer and his new album, "Hey You," is a major step forward. Co-writing with the likes of roots-rocker Todd Snider and alt-country figure Jim Lauderdale, Ingram has assembled 11 originals with catch phrases as simple and infectious as their melodies. He delivers them all with a rough-house charm that's hard to resist.
Ingram's major-label debut, 1997's "Livin' or Dyin'," was co-produced by Steve Earle, and "Hey You" was produced by Earle's former guitarist, Richard Bennett. The Earle brand of country-rock suits Ingram well on his boisterous songs about crumbling relationships, Mexican women and muscle cars. But "Hey You" contains one song hinting that Ingram is capable of far more than frat-boy fare. "Biloxi" is an autobiographical song about being deserted at age 17 by his father, and it refuses to condemn or forgive even as it delivers penetrating insights.
Ingram co-wrote "Anymore Good Lovin' " with fellow Texan Bruce Robison, and the song shows up on both of the singers' new albums. If Ingram's Earle influence is obvious on his album, Robison's James Taylor influence is obvious on his sophomore release, "Long Way From Anywhere." Like his role model, Robison fills his lyrics -- about a waitress in love with a Vietnam soldier, a lonely man on the road and a giddy newlywed groom -- with plenty of visual details and gives his folkie melodies a relaxed flow. Thus he can afford a Tayloresque, low-key, seductive vocal delivery, trusting the songs to take care of themselves. Robison's wife, Kelly Willis, provides harmony vocals.
Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere. To hear a free Sound Bite from Jack Ingram, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8109. For a free Sound Bite from Bruce Robison, press 8110. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)