The hangdog demeanour that Hayes Carll exhibits when he arrives on the Glee Club stage may be more exaggerated than usual; the Texan was married to Allison Moorer the previous Sunday and only a few hours later was bound for the UK on promotional duties, after the release of his sixth album What It Is. Despite probably thinking that there are other places he’d prefer to be then, what he delivers is at various points funny, poignant and ultimately an incredibly satisfying exhibition of his brand of Americana.
Not only do we get to hear the man’s songs though. Through his troubadour repertoire, there’s a sense that the seated audience are getting to know a wee bit of what it’s like to be Hayes Carll. The insight begins before the excellent title-track off the new record, when we’re regaled with an amusing anecdote identifying the benefits of flying South West Airlines, but we’re also informed about the discombobulating depersonalisation of a life on the road.
The new record is a pretty simple affair, blessed with warm strings and gentle harmonies and one of the album’s highlights proves to be one of the most moving this evening. ‘Jesus and Elvis’ was inspired by an Austin dive bar stuck in time. After her son left to fight in Vietnam, the owner refused to take down the Christmas decorations or update the jukebox until he returned. He never did. Despite the jaunty nature of the song musically, Carll’s exposition lends it compelling gravitas.
Accompanied by two of his compadres this evening allows the material to be beefed up when required. Travis Linville provides authentic texture on the lap steel at various points in the show and there is even an opportunity to run through the more unruly ‘KMAG YOYO’ and ‘Little Rock’. We’re told before the groove of the latter that nobody was writing songs about Arkansas, so he decided to claim that one.
Although the new record is clearly the focus, much of the evening’s most satisfying material comes from Carll’s 2008 record Trouble In Mind. ‘Drunken Poet’s Dream’ and ‘Bad Liver And A Broken Heart’ provide a beating pulse around the more despondent moments such as the brooding ‘Sake Of The Song’, but there are two highlights from this record that also prove to be equally compelling tonight. ‘She Left Me For Jesus’ is a hilarious tale about a lover being jilted by J.C that includes the some of the best lyrics he’s ever written. It would certainly be interesting to see how “They must think that I’m stupid or I don’t have a clue. I’ll bet he’s a commie, or ever worse yet a Jew” goes down in his home state of Texas! The song would probably be his signature tune if it wasn’t for the tender beauty of ‘Beaumont’ and this takes pride of place in the encore slot. It’s the best possible way to end the evening; supple acoustic tones and rich visuals compliment the gorgeous melody and Carll’s melancholy vocals epitomise everything that is great about this most evocative of musical genres.
Words & Images by Iain Fox