Saturday, February 25, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 974: Hayes Carll

I’m mid-way through a very enjoyable weekend. I’m getting a good mix of art appreciation, socializing with friends and relaxation time. I spent the entire morning getting into a couple of recent album purchases (and by recent I mean, within the last six months). One was Marlon Williams’ Self-Titled debut, and the other was Billy Bragg’s “Mr. Love and Justice”. Both are great, but neither is the subject of this next review.

Instead, here’s an album I’ve owned for a while and played many times, most recently while walking around town yesterday.

Disc 974 is…Trouble in Mind
Artist: Hayes Carll

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? Hayes Carll packs his guitar along some anonymous alley.

How I Came To Know It: I first heard Hayes Carll as the opening act for Steve Earle when Earle was touring for his 2009 album “Townes” (reviewed way back at Disc 28). I liked Carll's performance a lot, but not enough to buy his CD from the merch table. My friend Casey did buy it. I borrowed it off him later and quickly realized my mistake. I bought it for myself a few weeks later.

How It Stacks Up:  Carll has made five studio albums, but I only have two: this one and 2016’s “Lovers and Leavers.” Both are excellent but “Trouble in Mind” is #1.

Ratings: 4 stars

Some albums just make you shake your head and wonder why some country artists make it big and others don’t. “Trouble in Mind” is catchy, thoughtful and beautifully performed but went virtually ignored on the charts.

One reason for this might the album’s genre-defying sound. Carll combines elements of folk, country and rock and even kitschy humour on a couple of the tracks. The songs all go well together but when the whole album is over you might find yourself confused about exactly what kind of music you just heard. Don’t sweat it though; what matters is it was good.

The album has a lot of ‘mosey’ in it. The kind of music that makes you imagine a troubadour in his cups, meandering down the middle of the street and rambling on about his hopes and dreams. Nowhere is this more evident than on the opening track, the appropriately titled “Drunken Poet’s Dream.” The song is about a woman “wild as Rome.” It’s clear this woman is a bad influence, and equally clear it is exactly the kind of bad that suits Hayes Carll just fine. Writers are often drawn to women on the wrong side of the line. Even though they’re bad for us, they make for good stories later. In this case, it makes for a good song.

The song has country sensibilities throughout, and songs like “It’s a Shame” and “Beaumont” and “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” are full of the usual subjects: heartache, regret and open bottles of whiskey. Carll tackles these well-worn topics with a zest that makes it feel like it’s the first time you’ve heard them told or, failing that, the first time you’ve heard them told this well.

All the songs are tight, logically cohesive stories laden with snapshot images delivered with a turn of phrase that makes them stick in your head. Some favourites include these lines from “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”:

“I got a girl out in Henrietta
And her love’s like tornado weather”

And this nugget from “Beaumont”:

“I saw you leanin’ on a memory
With your back turned to the crowd
In that little bar on Murphy
Where they play guitar too loud.”

Great stuff, highly specific but evoking your own personal memories of all those bars – and girls – that damaged your hearing over the years.

Carll’s sense of humour is everpresent. He pokes gentle fun at a couple of small town oddballs on “Girl Downtown” and then pokes fun at his own struggling career on “I Got a Gig.” “She Left Me For Jesus” is irreverent and self-deprecating in exactly the right measure. Like a lot of humour songs, they lose their impact after you hear the punchlines a few times (except “Girl Downtown” – that one still gets me), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still fun to hear.

Late on the record Carll does a cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” which I think I like as much or more than the original. Waits’ version sounds like it is sung by a demented man-child, but Carll’s sounds like a world weary adult, tired of the struggle.

In terms of missteps, the record has few. “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” has a guitar solo that sounds too much like the hook from Luke Doucet’s “Broken One” which makes it impossible for me to hear one without thinking of the other. However, that’s more a function of the limitations of the three chord song and my excessive music collection. The tunes are similar, but not the same.

The one song that does irk me is “A Lover Like You” which sounds too much like “Blonde on Blonde” era Bob Dylan. Even Carll’s voice feels like he is trying to imitate Dylan, and it comes off as derivative.

Other than those two minor quibbles, though, this is a solid record that I have played a lot over the years, and still never regret putting on.

Best tracks: Drunken Poet’s Dream, It’s a Shame, Girl Downtown, Bad Liver and a Broken Heart, Beaumont, Don’t Let Me Fall, I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

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