Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO

Hayes Carll last album Trouble In Mind gave him a wider audience and with many of his songs featured in the film Country Strong (most by Garrett Hedlund), the profile is even higher. Check out what we think of this new relea

If you want to know what Americana in general, and Texas music specifically, sounds like, take a listen to Hayes Carll. He is a nearly perfect amalgamation of most of the best artists the genre has to offer. He has the easy, guy-next-door, drunken storytelling of Robert Earl Keen. His sense of the sardonic speaks to his time spent writing with Ray Wiley Hubbard. He has a gonzo view of life and politics that comes straight out of Blaze Foley's brain. He has the prolific writing skills of Cindy Thompson or Willie Nelson. Listen to his music and it quickly becomes clear that Hayes Carll has long been a student of the best of Texas music. KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) is a student's very good final project, collecting the works of others and creating material which is almost a brilliant work of the student's own.

“I'm like James Brown, only white and taller,” Carll proclaims on Stomp and Holler, a rip roaring tribute to life in the underground. There are times, especially when he is laughing about life on the road, when it is difficult to ignore the vocal similarities between Carll and Todd Snider. However, he pays his own homage to this fact by inviting Snider, as well as fellow bus dweller Corb Lund, to sing with him on the swaggering “Bottle In My Hand.” The song also references Alt-Country legend Merle Haggard's classic working man anthem “Rainbow Stew.” KMAG YOYO is full of songs about life on the road, living in and out of bars with well meaning strangers who are your best friends until you never see them again. Its stems from Carll following the old adage which advises writers to write what they know, and he does that very well. “I'm just peeling labels and feeling good, watching all this life go by,” he sings, summing everything up on “Grand Parade.” The title track gets its name from a military acronym which stand for "Kiss My Ass Guys, Your On Your Own." This term refers both to the treatment of a particularly unpatriotic solider and the treatment he gets from his superiors. One of the best, and most fun, song on the album is “Another Like You,” a bawdy duet with Cary Ann Hearst, in the vein of “Fairy Tale of New York.” “Are you hittin' on the stripper cause you can't afford to tip her,” jibes Hearst, before finally coming around with “I got a hand it to ya, there's a chance I'm gonna screw ya.” The melody is a pounding combination of a circus waltz and Roy Rogers. Carll is never afraid to go for broke in his comedy.

Carll does humor about as well as any singer in the business today, however, much like Lyle Lovett, he often does better in the quiet, most understated moments. While it is slightly out of place on an album released in February, his “Grateful for Christmas” the holiday ballad of Generation X. It tells, with heartbreaking clarity, the story how a child surrounded by generations of family on Christmas becomes an adult alone with his mother an a couple of her friends. “Lets all gather 'round, guess I'll say the blessing,” he sighs, looking around to realize that he is the only one left. “Bye Bye Baby” is a murmured farewell to the love that might have been on a dark and boozy night. “Chances Are” is one of the better pick up lines to grace an album in recent memory. “Chances are I took the wrong turn every chance I had a turn to make,” Carll confesses over a weeping steel guitar, before finishing with “every heart has got a story, mine just has a few more scars, but they could heal if you would hold me and tell me what my chances are.” Carll follows this up with “Hide Me Babe,” the pleading final track which again finds him looks for a safe place to bare his wounds.

Hayes Carll is a singer on the verge of greatness, with many moments of sheer brilliance. He is an exceptionally gifted song writer, with a gift for intelligent comedy. In fact, he is a rare songwriter in that he will take the kinds of risks more often associated with comedians like Sarah Silverman rather than going with a safe and easy rhyme. He has a creaky, yet expressive voice, that is reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson, and a political bent that calls to him to mind as well. He also shares a gift for blending the poetic lyricism and earthy sexuality into a single, heart-rending ballad. KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) is the closest Hayes Carll has come to being a master, but his student work is still a thing of beauty.

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