Hayes Carll / Walt Wilkins – Poor David’s Pub (Dallas, TX)
Two songwriters. Two acoustic guitars. A pristine sound system. And a Dallas night cold enough to ensure that only the truly dedicated were there. Poor David’s Pub (apparently David is too poor to afford a heater) is a bastion of country music on Dallas’ lower Greenville strip that is being overrun with Land Rovers and martinis.
Though Walt Wilkins was listed as the opening act for Hayes Carll, the two came on together and told the audience they had been experimenting with a song-swapping set for about six shows. At first their styles seemed so contradictory that it was hard to shift from Wilkins’ slow, heartfelt ballads to Carll’s short, sweet word games and story-songs. As the night went on, though, they began to complement each other: Carll roused the crowd with songs about girls and growing up, while Wilkins got them emotional over God’s creation and a snowy day in Nashville.
Wilkins started the show with “Ruby’s Two Sad Daughters”, a song covered by Pat Green, with whom Wilkins has toured. Wilkins also wrote “Big Hopes”, the title track for Ty Herndon’s last album. His music isn’t sappy Nashville crap, but Wilkins exists somewhere in the no-man’s land between country, folk and easy listening.
Wilkins told a series of long stories that threatened the rhythm of the back-and-forth set. Apparently the night’s audience was made up largely of his family and friends who probably enjoyed his childhood remembrances and inside anecdotes, but he wasn’t holding the rest of the crowd. Further, Wilkins’ songs tend to clock in at a minimum of five minutes. Carll’s songs seemed like little ditties compared to Wilkins’ epics.
For all of the gravitas Wilkins put into his songs, it is clear that Carll is the better songwriter. His stage presence and songwriting show a self-deprecating self-confidence and a love for wordplay that makes listening to his stories and his songs a pleasure. Carll has a great voice that can be powerfully country (“It’s A Shame”) or humorously folky (“Richie Lee”). He writes songs that crack you up and slips in one-liners that you don’t catch until two lines later.
I only wish we could have heard more from him, but that same laid-back personality that draws you to him gave Wilkins the limelight in front of his family and friends. Carll’s best song of the night, “Where Did All My Good Friends Go?”, was an ironic reflection of the nature of the crowd. At the end of it, Carll kind of shrugged his shoulders and grinned, just happy to be there.