Good music takes you on a journey.
It transports you to forgotten places — maybe the spot where you shouted every word to a summer-defining hit or danced with a loved one for the first time.
And sometimes it invites you a scene best captured by melody.
That’s the case for “The Marfa Tapes,” an unvarnished collection of 15 songs from country storytellers Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall that opens a door to rural Marfa, Texas, and a southwestern landscape where the trio says endless stars fill night skies and photos can’t do the sunrise justice.
Set for release Friday via Vanner Records/RCA Nashville, Lambert and company captured “The Marfa Tapes” with live, outdoor takes where listeners can hear rustling cattle, fireside crackles and wind gusts tickling each song.
“Waking up there with the sunrise, it looks like a desert painting,” Lambert said. “You can’t really believe it. You try to take a picture and you can’t.
“It’s like you live in a Western,” she added. “It’s dreamy.”
Ingram and Lambert first visited Marfa at Randall’s nudging in 2015. A self-described “little bit of a bomb” went off in Lambert’s life that year as she underwent a publicized divorce.
A needed getaway was in order.
“I’ll never forget pulling in at four a.m. and looking up and going ‘Oh my gosh. Where are we?'” Lambert recalled.
Ingram added, “That moment’s embedded in my brain, burned in. … It looked like a National Geographic photo.”
Randall said he once stumbled upon the star-gazing stop on a road trip “and never got over it.”
He may describe it best: “You feel like you’re in a painting or a Clint Eastwood movie, or both. A painting of a Clint Eastwood movie.”
And they began penning essential Lambert tunes under Marfa skies.
The three wrote “Tin Man,” a standout Lambert song from her 2016 double album “The Weight Of These Wings,” during one West Texas retreat. A Marfa session also yielded hard drinking country jam “Tequila Does,” a fan favorite off Lambert’s Grammy-winning 2019 album “Wildcard.”
Marfa offers an escape without outside influence, where these Texas natives could spin vinyl records from Marvin Gaye or Willie Nelson and share campfire stories accompanied by a bottle of tequila.
“I was like, ‘I know where we can run away to and no one can find us,'” Randall said. “I don’t know that it would even work with other writers, necessarily. It’s all magical because it’s the three of us and our friendships. What was going on in our lives that year. How that all played into the music we were making, the songs we were writing. The precedent was set for every time we go back out there.
“It’s kinda like our place.”
‘The Marfa Tapes’
During a Marfa trip last September, Lambert, Randall and Ingram considered releasing a collection of work tapes — iPhone-quality demos where cows sometimes outshined singing. The “magic” was there, but the quality was spotty.
They instead returned in November with engineer Brandon Bell and a few microphones to capture Marfa songs — recording “pretty much one take of each song,” Lambert said — in hopes of bringing their scenic storytelling to listeners abroad.
The record features three musicians, but location arguably play a fourth personality on the album. Listeners hear boots scraping against rock. Animals howl between playful banter; and wind sometimes howls louder. A border patrol helicopter flew over during a light-hearted rendition of “Tequila Does.”
“We all grew up listening to Jerry Jeff Walker and Willis Alan Ramsey and the Stones and all this fantastic music that has flaws, and that’s what makes it perfect,” Ingram said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Making music that just is what it is.
“There’s nothing there to hide anything. Being that vulnerable for all of us is part of the point.”
They recorded songs porch-side, while leaning against tailgates and on a ridge — because, as Lambert said, “We’re gonna be drinking and singing where ever we are, let’s go see something pretty.”
Lambert said, “[Marfa] just opens up your mind and gives space to create. That’s why we can’t help but create there, because there’s nothing else to get in your way.”
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Inside the songs
The album pulls in listeners with opener “In His Arms,” a pining country tale that hears Lambert singing, “I’ve been a rolling stone, a tumbleweed/ Waiting for the right one to come find me/ But the wrong one always set me free/ I wish I was in his arms tonight.”
It sweeps up listeners in heart-wrenching harmonized stories (“Wind’s Just Gonna Blow;” “Breaking A Heart”); delivers the next go-to campfire sing-along (“Two-Step Down To Texas,” “Homegrown Tomatoes”); and rightfully nails timeless drinking tunes (“Am I Right Or Amarillo,” “Tequila Does”).
But no character on “The Marfa Tapes” may be more memorable than antagonist “Geraldine,” a show night troublemaker with “truck stop red lips pullin’ on some nicotine” that Lambert describes in the song as “trailer park pretty, but you’re never gonna be Jolene.”
“Geraldine is either a baby sister or some sort of cousin of Jolene,” Lambert said.
Randall added, “If you’ve ever been on the road, you’ve met a Geraldine.”
The album closes with “Amazing Grace (West Texas),” a fitting ode for “The Marfa Tapes” born out of a rainstorm spotted miles away by the songwriters. It expands on a picture of the region where they sing: “… The church bells ringing in little bitty towns/And the people come from miles, miles around just to hear that old piano feed their faith/ With the word of God, and ‘Amazing Grace.'”
“There’s a lot of people in this world that [have] never been out … where the horizon is everywhere,” Ingram said. “To take somebody that’s never seen that and know what it feels like to watch the rainstorm come and know exactly when the rain drops are going to start hitting because you can see it in the horizon … It’s like a song.”
And Lambert would love to perform “The Marfa Tapes” live one day, but she said it can be tough to wrangle everyone’s schedule.
Until then, you’ll have to let the album take you on a journey.
“I’m hoping that because people weren’t there with us, after they go through the whole record, [they feel] that they were,” Lambert said. “I hope they can get inside of it with us. That’s the whole point of the way we recorded this.”