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Hayes Carll

KMAG YOYO – 2011 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by Hayes Carll

The Houston-bred, Austin-based Hayes Carll is a true Texas troubadour. He stocks his four full-length (and second for Lost Highway) with character-rich tales full of humor and heartache. While there is nothing radically new in this set of shaggy dog songs, Carll continues to reveal his terrific way with words, making his music come vibrantly to life.

There's a sense of Carll (or at least characters) pondering growing up and looking for something more out of life throughout this disc. Following the rockin' rave-up of an opener (where all he wants to do is Stomp And Holler), Carll touches on the difficulties of being a musician on Hard Out Here, in which he admits, "I used to have heart but the highway took it." On the uncharacteristically straight-from-the-heart Chances Are, he expresses hope in finding lasting love and "finally find my heart a home." Similarly, in the loosely played Grand Parade, he is thinking about settling down with a girl, while in the Texas Dance Hall-ready The Lovin' Cup, he states that, "love is back in town...the one good thing I found." Although he populates his family Christmas song, Grateful For Christmas with humor, it is less of a caricature portrait than Robert Earl Keen's Christmas With The Family, as he expresses genuine gratefulness for his family. The heart-felt album closer Hide Me sums up both the album and its themes as he proclaims "After all these years of running 'round/Flyin' high and I'm falling down/Well, the time has come at last/to rest my heart and ease my past."

Carll, however, hasn't forsaken his wicked wit and wild stories. Bottle In My Hand is a rollicking tale about life on the road while, in the more low-key The Letter, he reveals that "I meet some wild people out here." The wildest people on this disc might be the mismatched couple in Another Like You, a hilarious duet with Cary Ann Hearst. This track anchors the middle of the disc along with the tour d' force, "KMAG YOYO." The title track, which stands for the military acronym "Kiss My Ass Guys, You're On Your Own," blasts out (a la Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues") a fiercely played dark satire about young, not terribly accomplished, American soldier.

With this disc, Carll further solidifies his standing as not only one of the top Texas troubadours, but also one of the best young Americana songwriters working today.