By Hayes Carll.
"...sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly."
— Edward Albee, from The Zoo Story
Though only in his early 30s, Hayes Carll seemed to have taken the long way 'round. But his way. The Texas singer-songwriter follows in the long line of the Lone Star State's tradition of hard-worn songwriters who share an equal love for folk and country — Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark, to name a few. After developing his chops from playing the bar/club circuit from Galveston to Houston, Carll gained a following and garnered critical attention with his debut, Flowers & Liquor in 2002. Turning down a multi-album deal with Sugar Hill Records, he released his 2005 sophomore effort, Little Rock, under his own label, Highway 87 Records. It reached No. 1 on the Americana charts. Even with this type of attention, Hayes Carll ain't exactly a household name — even in his home state.
Things may change with the release of Carll's new record, Trouble in Mind. Carll displays all of his influences, including Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, with his thick Texas drawl delivery. What gives Carll's songs distinction is his poetic lyrics, often intertwined with an ironic and hilarious sense of humor (check out "She Left Me For Jesus"). His songs, like many great country and folk songs, are great stories, observations from across a long bar, sticky with spilled drinks. His keen eye for description brings to mind Lucinda Williams. Songs of heartbreak, drifters, barflies and journeymen all fall under Carll's talent for an excellent turn of phrase. In "I Got A Gig," Carll sings, "There's an old lion tamer parked behind the bar / Hundred pounds of weed in a stolen car / Oil patch boys and girls who went to college / Rules you don't break and laws that ain't acknowledged ... Pills in the tip jar, blood on the strings / Oh Lord, I never thought I'd see these things / I got a gig, baby."
Producer Brad Jones is a seasoned engineer and session instrumentalist noted for his alignment with the pop side of Nashville. Jones and Carll have assembled a crack band, featuring old-school session players like drummer John Gardner and the legendary pedal steel player Al Perkins (who played with Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, among scores of others), along with younger generation session folk like guitarist Will Kimbrough, who worked with Kim Richey, Amy Rigby and Todd Snider. The sound is smooth, without being polished. And with songs such as a cover of Scott Nolan's "Bad Liver And A Broken Heart" (with the guitar contribution of former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird) and "A Lover Like You" (which hints at Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat"), Carll pulls off his rock 'n' roll roots with drunken snarl that rivals Paul Westerberg.
Trouble in Mind is a record that proudly pays homage to a number of musical influences, but the songs and delivery are purely of the gifted songwriter's. And besides, it's a satisfying and fun record to listen to, back to front. It is unmistakable that Hayes Carll has gone a long way and come back a short distance "correctly."