Somewhere between a demo collection, a live album with no audience, and a lo-fi left turn, the ad-hoc country trio’s desert recording session focuses on the simple joys of songwriting.
No genre romanticizes the art of songwriting like country music, and The Marfa Tapes is a late-night love letter to its myth. Miranda Lambert, along with collaborators Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, headed to West Texas with just an acoustic guitar and some ideas in a notebook. They recorded these 15 songs by a ranch in the desert, documenting first takes, trading lead vocals, and figuring out harmonies. Between songs, they cracked jokes and reassured each other, poured shots and marvelled at their surroundings. In an accompanying documentary, they’re laid-back and amiable, even giddy, as they get to work. “Not everything has to be a business decision,” Lambert says of their process. “I miss music.”
Somewhere between a demo collection, a live album with no audience, and a lo-fi left turn, this music is a joy to hear, like a vacation on record. Lambert has always crafted her studio albums in the spirit of sprawling travelogues, dynamic enough to house radio singles, earnest tributes, and winking in-jokes. Like 2016’s double album The Weight of These Wings, which featured the trio’s first collaborations, The Marfa Tapes excels in this spacious terrain just beyond the mainstream. While it lacks the gravitas of her more polished releases, it is bound by a cozy sense of quiet that spans tracks that sound like hits (“Anchor,” a ballad sung by Ingram) along with the actual hits (a solo rendition of Lambert’s 2016 song “Tin Man”).