February 13, 2019
Hayes Carll – What It Is
Carll’s sixth release has 12 songs spread over a canvas of diverse sounds – acoustic, rockabilly, swaggering rock n’ roll, folk meets bluegrass, lush strings and a Chuck Berry pastiche. This combination is delivered with considerable aplomb and accompanied with his sharp wit and lyrical craft.
Carll’s said of the album “I take stock of myself and the world around me and write about it”. We switch between the themes of politics, relationships and his philosophical take on where he is in his life now. He is an established songwriter with a talent for a lyric; when harnessed to these tunes we have an album that deserves critical acclaim; not least from this scribe.
If a woman wanted to have her personality exposed then “None’ya” is a love song extraordinaire. It is a gently rolling acoustic song with a catchy chorus, telling of his fiancé, Allison Moorer. She seems a strong yet eccentric personality, with tales such as painting ceilings turquoise and sharp rebukes at his seeking to establish where she’s been. None’ya business!
“Times Like These” follows a well trodden path. By the title you can work out that Carll has joined that long line of Americana musicians sharing his thoughts on the Presidency. He’s more bemused than angry and seeks to tough it out rather than storm Capital Hill.
The single “Jesus and Elvis” came out in 2017 for Kenny Chesney. Now one of its co-writers sings a “story of a family, a bar, the memories it carries and the things that would comfort us”. It’s got clever wordplay and taps into that Country music tradition of delightful song titles and twists. Carll’s slightly stretched voice brings personality over a John Prine like tune which thumps along with a Country lilt and some attractive piano. Eventually a trumpet joins the band and adds to the song’s wistfulness.
Bluegrass banjo delivers the album’s best melody with “What It Is”. Carll takes stock of what he has: ‘The future holds a promise that it doesn’t have to keep but it might not need keeping anymore … And what it is is right here in front of me and I’m not letting go”.
“I Will Stay” takes the lights low and finds him caught by a spotlight with his acoustic guitar. With a simple heartfelt melody he offers commitment and tells of his unwaivering love (despite the inevitable ups and downs to come). Strings embellish the beauty. A magnificent album closer.