Being Hayes Carll
Listening to Hayes Carll’s new CD, “KMAG, YOYO” reinforces the notion that Carll is a n’er do well drunken poet, drifting from one barroom party to the next. In the song “Hard Out Here” he is told, “Boy, you ain’t a poet, you’re just a drunk with a pen.” The image isn’t new. His co-write with Ray Wylie Hubbard on his last CD (and on Ray Wylie’s, too) is a song called “Drunken Poet’s Dream” which celebrates “wine bottles scattered like last night’s clothes” in a room with a woman who says, “you be the sinner, honey, I’ll be the sin.”
Carll certainly looks the part with his tousled hair and beard and the constant look of mischief. His voice even sounds like he might have had a cocktail – make that a Shiner or three – before starting to sing. Sort of a modern day, Texas alt-country version of Dean Martin. The press has bought the image, too. One google and I get this review on the ABC website, from the Associated Press: “Carll Celebrates Debauchery On New Album.”
All of which got me to thinking about South Park, Snoop Dogg, and Ray Wylie.
You know the scene in the South Park “Here Comes The Neighborhood” episode where Snoop Dogg changes personas to talk to Will Smith? Snoop is recording, sounding all rapperish, then he gets a call from The Fresh Prince. Snoop makes the immediate transition to upscale, Eastern white guy voice for the phone call, then back to rapper when the recording starts again. It’s near the beginning of Act 2 of the episode, which is linked here.
Could you imagine Ray Wylie Hubbard changing like that? I’m thinking that the Ray Wylie on stage is pretty close to the guy you’d be talking to if you had him over for a dinner party. What about Hayes Carll? I’m sure he’s closed a few bars as performer and patron, but it seems to me there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Carll grew up in a Houston suburb and went to college at Hendrix College, a small liberal arts school in Arkansas. He took his history degree and moved back to Texas, where he wrote and sang his own songs until releasing Flowers and Liquor in 2002. Word is he turned down a record deal to self release Little Rock, which was the first do-it-yourselfer to make it to #1 on the Americana charts. Again, he supposedly turned down a record deal to self release his second album. Maybe a drunken poet would tell you he was going to do that at midnight, but do you think he’d really do it the next morning?
There are numerous examples of the impaired but talented singer-songwriter. Texas has certainly had its share. Townes Van Zandt comes to mind as the prototype, but there are others. Carll is certainly talented. Time will tell where he fits in the greater scheme, but he’s got a way with lyrics and is an excellent performer. This is just a guess – I know nothing about his personal life – but I doubt he’s a drunken poet 24/7. He’s too smart about the business of music. Once again guessing here, but it appears to me that he embraces the wilder side of life in song without really sacrificing his own well being to the cause. He’s no more the drunk with the pen than he is the soldier in the song “KMAG, YOYO,” he’s just singing about those guys.
So is this guy authentic? He’s not authentic Ray Wylie or Townes, but he’s not trying to be either of those guys. He’s not an authentic small-town country boy, but he’s not trying to do that either. He is an authentic Texas singer-songwriter who apparently likes a lot of what he has heard from Prine, Kristofferson, Earle, Dylan, etc. as well as Ray Wylie and Townes. He brings all that together and mixes in his own brand of rock and country for a very enjoyable, if not really out-of-control ride. If I’ve guessed right on the not really out-of-control part, that’s okay with me. We have enough tragic heroes.
Oh yeah, before I forget, KMAG, YOYO is a great ride, start to finish. Buy it or download it right away.