Hayes Carll ventures outside of Texas!
Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., June 14, 2005
By Jeffrey B. Remz
SOMERVILLE, MA - Hayes Carll does something few other like-minded musicians do from his home base of Texas - he isn't afraid to leave.
And that was good news for a smallish contingent of Boston-area fans, who had the chance to enjoy Carll for the first time in close to three years.
Carll covers both country and folk, but he hews far more to country. On his latest disc, "Little Rock," which he self-released after one album on the respected Texas-based Compadré label, he writes songs with friends like Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard. That gives an indication of where he is coming from musically.
Vocally, he recalls quite clearly Steve Earle and Bob Dylan, although he is less gritty than Earl and far easier on the ears than Dylan.
In his second set, Carll displayed his various skills to good effect. He sings well enough, but his strength probably is his songwriting with a keen sense of putting words to music.
"Rivertown," for example, written with Clark, where he sings about a man looking for redemption: "I been rollin' empty sevens since the day that I was born/Got no rings upon my fingers no ink beneath my skin/I'll be as clean going out as I was coming in."
And he also showed writing skills on the title track of the new disc. Carll introduced "Little Rock" by deadpanning how people wrote many songs about Texas, which became an industry in and of itself, but I "got into the game too late, so I wrote all these songs about Arkansas."
Carll has a droll sense of humor, telling funny stories, and they also make it into song. After asking what the Massachusetts motto was and questioning why it took 300 years to be come up with something as exciting as the Bay State, Carll sang the very cute "Live Free or Die," the motto of New Hampshire.
Helping Carll was a strong backing band. Austin mainstay drummer Lisa Pankratz, who has banged the skins for folks like Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Ronnie Dawson, played it simple with a snare and kick drum, and she set a good pace throughout. Her husband Brad Fordham, did his job as her rhythm mate on bass.
And electric guitarist Lance Smith had a number or runs throughout the set, adding spark without overdoing it.
Though not playing before a big crowd - maybe there were 75 people - Carll proved willing to take risks by even hitting the crowd. For that alone, he deserves credit, but considering that he showed himself to be an artist of note, kudos are in order.