Country music’s lyrical lanes have long been paved by clever turns of phrase and brilliant puns, lived-in details, and grounded narratives. At this juncture, nearly 20 years after Flowers & Liquor first established his listener base, Hayes Carll has become known for the same.
That’s not to say that Carll has always taken country roads, but on his latest release, You Get It All, the native Texan keeps things straightforward. Its country compositions are lean, even simple — think Townes Van Zandt or Billy Joe Shaver — and serve as ideal vehicles for Carll’s primary gift as a mesmerizing wordsmith.
“Nice Things,” the album opener co-penned by the Brothers Osborne, sets the tone early with the opening line “God came down to earth to enjoy what she’d created” and distills the ways in which humanity is making short-term decisions with long-term consequences. After three cynical vignettes, Carll sticks his landing: “This is why y’all can’t have nice things.”
As good as the opening track is, Carll is just getting started as songs like the title track and “Help Me Remember” come into view. Both are true songwriting accomplishments and it feels almost unfair that they’re stacked back-to-back so casually like they are.
The former is a beautifully moving refrain of love and all it entails on which Carll closes, “All my blessing, all my curse, all my better, all my worse / From the chapel to the hearse, you get it all.” The latter is inspired by Carll’s own experience watching his grandfather battle Alzheimer’s dementia, a song whose protagonist is hoping to recall what he can from fading scenes all around. We’ll let Carll’s lyrics stand on their own here as a shining achievement.
Did I try to make a difference, did I give a damn
Was I a believer in God and his plan
Did I light up your life like a full moonlit night in December
Could you please help me remember
Carll balances the sarcastic and the serious nicely on You Get It All with, but no song escapes the substantive lyrical approach. Even when he’s shrugging at the outcome (“Any Other Way”) or easing off attempts to control it (“If It Was Up to Me,” “Different Boats”), he does so with such excellence in his craft that it still feels heavy.
The songcraft here, as with all of Carll’s catalog, is the centerpiece, but everything works to near-perfection on You Get It All — from the production to the players. It’s an album bound to receive plenty of acclaim, but that’s nothing new for a songwriter so gifted.