Many of the great Texas troubadours – Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, Billy Joe Shaver – are sadly gone. But thankfully many remain to continue a wonderful tradition in Americana music. Hayes Carll sits high on this list.
Like those great names from the past, Carll uses his distinctive singing-drawl to deliver deadpan clever lyrics. Remember, this is the songwriter who gave us 2008 Americana Song of the Year “She Left Me For Jesus” with the drop-dead funny line: Why last time we made love/She even called out his name
His latest release You Get it All may not quite contain lines so inventive. But it still packs a lyrical punch!
In fact, the opening line of the opening track “Nice Things” provides an instant alert to the mischief he is about to create: God came down to earth to enjoy what she created
This hillbilly ditty, co-written with Osborne Brothers, examines the consequences of seemingly inconsequential actions and Carll concludes: This is why y’all can’t have nice things
The title track, co-written with Craig Wiseman, was the album’s single and is a bouncy, singalong which typifies the sort of smart humour he likes to inject into songs: All my joys and my regrets/All my old Guy Clark cassettes/I knew the night we met that you’d get it all
And with such lines, it could be an ode to wife, singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, who co-produced the album with Kenny Greenberg.
Carll said of Moorer in a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone: “She’s my main co-writer, my life partner, and in a lot of ways, my creative partner. She’s certainly my first read, my first listener, and the first person I talk to about my work.”
Carll ponders another of life’s challenges, the crippling disease known as Alzheimer’s dementia, in the next track “Help Me Remember.” It was another co-write, this time with Josh Morningstar, but it is very personal to Carll. He provides a beautiful tribute to his grandfather whom, as a teenager, he watched succumb to Alzheimer’s.
“Help Me Remember” is endearing song-writing at its finest. Every line will induce a tear:
Did I try to stand for something or would I always fold
Did I do things when I was young to be proud of when I was old
Was I a house on fire or was I just a slow burning ember
Could you please help me remember
The song’s official video is a polished re-enactment of an elderly couple coping with the disease and it ends with Carll on camera delivering a public service message in which he states that more than six million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s dementia.
Carll’s ability to use language to illustrate the absurd is nicely demonstrated on the love-lost track “She’ll Come Back To Me.” Once again, he wastes little time cutting to the lyrical chase with a delightful opening:
It rains all day in the desert
And Elvis is alive
A circle’s got four corners
And two and two is five
I’ve never been hungover
And there ain’t no fish in the sea
And she’ll come back to me
Prior to release, Carll tweeted about “She’ll Come Back To Me”: “Aaron Raitiere and I wrote down as many untruths as we could muster, then tried to tap into that high lonesome, primal mountain holler.”
Carll teamed up with country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark to both write and record the haunting ballad “In The Mean Time.” Both divide up verses and when they come together for the beautiful chorus, Carll could be Willie Nelson at his duet best!
You Get It All is the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter’s eighth studio album and typifies Carll’s lyrically-inspired output of twang music he has now been producing for 20 years. Look for it on any list when the awards season – of various genre – comes around!
Crossroads – American Music Appreciation