Deep in the heart of the Trans-Pecos, where the high desert meets the rugged mountains, lies a little town with an outsized grip on the American imagination: Marfa, Texas. For decades, Marfa has attracted artists and wanderers, visionaries and misfits, loners and oddballs. The desolate landscape is a filmmaker’s dream, and the infinite, empty sky leaves you with little doubt as to your place in the universe. Barely a dot on the map, Marfa is an eccentric outpost in the midst of a vast expanse of nothingness, the perfect place to lose—or find—yourself. For Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram, it was both.
Though the three Texas songwriters were all longtime friends and admirers, they’d never actually written together prior to 2015, when they decided to make a spur of the moment trip to Marfa. Isolated without any connection to the outside world, the trio found there was little to do there but bond and write, which suited them just fine, and such retreats soon became a regular tradition. The goal on these trips wasn’t to pen hits—though ACM Song of the Year “Tin Man” came out of Marfa, as did fan favorite “Tequila Does”—but rather to write music that truly meant something, to craft the kind of work that could transcend the moment and stand the test of time. While it was always a thrill to hear tracks they’d written in Marfa come to life in the studio later on, there was something special about the lo-fi demos they made out in the desert that appealed to Lambert, Randall, and Ingram, something about hearing the songs in their natural habitat that felt singularly compelling.
So, in November of 2020, the three returned to Marfa once again for five days, this time with microphones and a camera in tow to document the entire trip. They recorded much of the resulting album outdoors, inviting the ambient sounds of the desert to seep into their bare bones performances, which often consisted of nothing more than a finger-picked acoustic guitar and their intimate, unadorned vocals. The trio’s lighthearted banter drifts in and out between tracks, as well, and it’s easy to feel like you’re right there with them, sitting in a creaky chair on the back porch or watching the sunset from the tailgate of an old Bronco.
Taken as a whole, The Marfa Tapes offers a rare glimpse inside the creative process of three of country music’s most accomplished writers and performers, a candid, unvarnished look at true chemistry in its purest form. These songs would shine anywhere, but there’s something about the rustling of the wind and the crackling of the fire that brings the music to life in a way no band arrangement or studio production ever could. The spaciousness leaves room for the imagination to roam, and the desert, mountains, and sky are all just as integral to the music as Lambert, Randall, and Ingram themselves. In the end, Marfa isn’t just the setting for these performances; it’s the soul.