The party’s over. Lovers and Leavers (out April 8 on Thirty Tigers) is the fifth album from the former honky-tonk wunderkind, and it marks a departure from everything that has preceded it. It is his first release in five years, his first since turning a decidedly middle-aged 40, and his first since his divorce.
The Houston native’s most subdued and reflective album, Lovers and Leavers is also his first produced by Joe Henry, whose work typically transcends genre or category — a fine choice for someone looking to grow beyond the pigeonhole of Americana. Though the world-weariness of the album-opening “Drive” finds Carll extending the influence and legacy of Townes Van Zandt — never wasting a breath, let alone a syllable — many of the album’s chamber-style arrangements nudge him away from the roadhouse and a little closer to Randy Newman territory.
He dares to title the second number “Sake of the Song” (Townes sacrilege?), but it’s less about the essence of songwriting than the circus surrounding the performing artist, “the record deals and trained seals and puppets on a string.” As for the rest, it’s stop the merry-go-round, he wants to get off. It might be tempting to approach spare, subtle dazzlers like “Good While It Lasted,” “You Leave Alone” and “The Love That We Need” as dear-diary confessionalism, but the depth of this material owes more to maturity and mortality in general than to the specifics of this songwriter’s life.
Over the course of a tight ten selections, the song cycle proceeds from resignation to recognition to something approaching renewal. This album may initially sound like it’s about the end of something, but it’s really the beginning.