Hayes Carll – What Is It

Hayes Carll is a Texas singer songwriter in the mould of Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. What It Is, his very good sixth album, showcases Carll’s sharp songwriting and his often humorous delivery. The music is mostly acoustic, a folk vibe with touches of country and blues mixed in to give a rich roots sound.

Political messages sit side by side with more heartfelt and personal songs on this album. The light-hearted opening None’ya (as in, “it’s none of your business”) tells of appreciating the people close to you, and was inspired by Carll’s fiancée, Allison Moorer. The excellent Beautiful Thing has a bluesy feel yet is upbeat, almost celebratory, and has a more expansive musical backing than most of the tracks on the album. Closing track I Will Stay is a poignant declaration of love and commitment over gentle guitar fingerpicking. Lyrically it is more straightforward that most of Carll’s work, which only emphasises the strength of his feelings.

Times Like These has an uptempo blues feel, its lyrics a commentary on an increasingly divided country. Yet there are also hints of positivity and what might be achieved by working together. The standout Fragile Men takes aim at mail privilege and doesn’t miss. Written in mocking tones of comfort to males who are being asked to change it shows acerbic wit and satirises their reluctance to make progress very nicely. In the bluesy Wild Pointy Finger, Carll turns his aim on those who are judgemental about others, with satire again used to very good effect.

Hayes Carll may well be a new name to many in the UK, although his work over many years will be known to devotees of Americana and roots music. What It Is provides a good taste of his songwriting abilities and his biting use of humour to make a point. His message of overcoming the divisions in the US is perhaps equally necessary here too, and it sounds especially good when delivered in that Texas drawl.

Release date: 15 February 2019
Label: Dualtone Music

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