Just like his trusty ol' beat-up Ford, Jack Ingram's Livin' or Dyin' is easy to miss in a lot brimming with shiny, new Nashville Cadillacs. Perhaps that's why the first words out of his mouth are "I'm a beat-up Ford, you're a Cadillac," on the album's lead-off track, "Nothin' Wrong With That" -- the rejoining phrase, by the way, to that first verse. Indeed, there isn't. Check under the hood, though, and there's Steve Earle's rebuilt traney, which no doubt gives this baby its kick. After all, Ingram has a similar gravel-road scruff to his voice, and his short, direct, Jack Daniels love songs bear the same no-nonsense approach as the hard-core troubadour. Ingram is still quite a ways from Earle's hard-road poetry, but the boy surely knows how to write a tune. Surprisingly, this batch is quietly unassuming, with relatively few rockers; only the standard "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)" and "I Can't Leave You" snort and buck with energy approaching Ingram's live shows. Still, you can't argue with his reading of Guy Clark's "Rita Ballou," a not-so-loving turn on Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas," and his own stand-out, "Ghost of a Man." Not much of a paint job -- there's bondo showing through here and there -- and the tires look like they put on those thousands of miles all by themselves. But we like that in a beat-up Ford. You can keep the Caddy.
(3.0 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez