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Hayes Carll

What It Is – 2019 (Dualtone)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Hayes Carll

After 2016's uncharacteristically dour "Lovers and Leavers," Hayes Carll is back with his senses of humor and hope intact on this, his sixth album. A lot of that change in attitude probably has to do with his burgeoning relationship with fiancée Allison Moorer, which seems to be paying dividends both personally and professionally.(Although it probably precludes any type of great friendship with Steve Earle, who recently said of his ex, "She traded me in for a younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter.") Moorer's influence is all over this record. She co-produced the album, co-wrote half of the 12 songs and quite obviously inspired songs like the vow "I Will Stay" and the story of their romantic meeting in "Beautiful Thing."

In fact, this CD could be subtitled "How Hayes Got His Groove Back." It's not that he shies away from controversial topics. He's as angry and confused by the way the world is going as so many of us are. Those feelings are probably best exemplified an the rollicking, fiddle-forward "Times Like These" lamenting the divisiveness in the not-that-united United States today, and how hard it is to stop the ugliness of nowadays from turning us into something we're not. It is anything but hopeless. The fact that he rhymes "times like these" with "joie de vivre" tells you all you need to know.

Also of note is the pep talk Carll gives to himself on "If I May Be So Bold," where he promises us "There's a whole world out there waiting / Full of stories to be told / I'll heed the call and tell 'em all / If I may be so bold."

Which may be the best musical news so far of 2019.