Hayes Carll: What It Is
On “None’ya,” over a backwoods fiddle and acoustic strum, Austin country-rock lifer Hayes Carll toasts to a peculiar lover who paints the front-porch ceiling turquoise to ward off evil spirits. Later, on his sixth LP, during “American Dream,” he shouts out one of the country’s unsung cinematic heroes: “I’ll find an old friend in El Dorado, like Harry Dean Stanton on a drive-in screen,” he sings. “A tumbleweed blowin’ through Paris, Texas.” It’s the kind of sly humor and colorful imagery that keeps his songs afloat when their straightforward arrangements might otherwise sink. In other words, a quirky Carll is an interesting Carll: And he hits that sweet spot most of the time, whether he’s comparing and contrasting the “King of Kings and the King of rock-and-roll” on “Jesus and Elvis” or pointing a finger at modern-day red-state conservatism on the atmospheric “Fragile Men,” a cinematic highlight laced with strings and finger snaps. (“Fragile men, they all try to scold you/ Now there’s no one to console you when you don’t get your way,” he sings on the latter track. “The whole world is exploding, and I know it feels so strange/ It must make you so damn angry; they’re expecting you to change.”) Carll sometimes plays it a bit too safe, like on the boogieing “Times Like These,” a thinly veiled Trump critique heavy on the Telecaster twang. But at his edgiest, he comes off like the sharpest, snarkiest poet in the corner of a dimly lit bar.