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Carll needs no crutch

The Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, Mass., July 23, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Hayes Carll didn't even play his best-known song, "She Left Me For Jesus," during his 95 minutes on the small stage. And while chances are that some were internally clamoring for the typical Carll sense of humor, no one could legitimately say that the lanky Texan short-changed them.

At 39, Carll, who meanders somewhere between the margins of country and folk, may be getting a tad more introspective and less quirky than he used to. He hasn't had an album out since 2011's "KMAG YOYO," 1 of only 4 dating back to 2002. Carll could not be accused of being prolific.

Since 2011, he's gotten divorced and split from Lost Highway Records. He's continued touring, hitting various parts of the U.S., but four years is an eternity in this day and age not to release any new sounds.

But now he seems intent on getting his career back on track with more touring (this small venue - perhaps holding 75 people - was part of a residency and a return for Carll, who played here seven years ago) and a new album on the horizon.

With only an acoustic guitar in hand, Carll offered a mixture of old and presumably upcoming.

Part of this tour stint included a chance to be on the road with his son, Eli, who just turned 12 the previous day. Eli was nowhere to be seen (Carll jokingly commented how the state had certain laws that prevented him from being in the bar, unlike his home state where they're more relaxed about such matters, Carll claimed).

But Eli showed up in comments and song. Before introducing "The Magic Kid" about his son, Carll opined about how his son pursued magic even though he was neither very good, nor particularly supported in his endeavor.

However, Carll praised his son's sticktuitiveness and said he wished he had had the same ability when he was 12. Instead of his sly sense of humor, Carll seemed serious in patter and song, obviously proud of his offspring.

Another new song, "Jesus and Elvis," was based on an Austin bar, Lalas, and the sad story of the owner's son never coming home from Viet Nam.

Carll played a chunk of "KMAG YOYO," including the big sounding first encore song "Stomp And Holler" and the elongated and sturdy "Hard Out Here." He had some difficulty with his cover of Townes Van Zant's "To Live Is to Fly," changing the order of verses, which he acknowledged, but the quiet sounding song worked nonetheless.

Carll wasn't afraid to borrow from the humor of others either with a good read of the late Bill Morrissey's "Fall In Love At First Sight."

Carll's wore his influences well (Van Zant, Guy Clark are key touchstones) while also maintaining his own sense of humor and seriousness. In the live setting, Carll has matured, while not venturing too far from his trademark sense of humor and quality lyrics. No crutch needed.