Hayes Carll is still in his 20s, yet he's already attained the whiskey-drenched, world-weary sound of someone who's battled a lifetime of demons. The Houston native employs that compressed experience to achieve near perfection on his second album, Little Rock
, an Americana tour de force that gracefully straddles melancholic gloom and bubbly buoyancy.
There's not a weak song here, which is saying something considering the album's range. From the wistful lamentation of Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long to the silly wordplay of Down the Road Tonight, Carll exhibits a deft lyrical touch across the widest possible range of human emotions.
And yet Carll is more than just a songwriter. His rough, thickly accented voice and exquisite acoustic guitar work are what really drive the album.
While Carll is the clear star, he benefits from some help along the way.
Guy Clark co-wrote the haunting Rivertown. And Clark's guitar work from The Randall Knife clearly inspired the similarly elegiac Long Way Home.
Ray Wylie Hubbard co-wrote the riotous Chickens. In the liner notes, Carll adds the following disclaimer: 'Ray and I felt that what the world really needed was a song about chickens. There is a good chance that we were wrong.' Perhaps, but the world definitely could use more songs as enjoyable as this one.
Guest vocals from Allison Moorer and stellar instrumental work from producer R.S. Field, Jimmy Lester, and Kenny Vaughn add depth and texture, confirming Little Rock as something more than just standard singer/songwriter fare.
Indeed, Little Rock is anything but ordinary. It is an energetic confirmation of Carll's status among the state's most promising young artists.
-This Is Texas Music, March 2005
He evokes Townes Van Zandt lyrically, Guy Clark emotionally, Steve Earle stylistically and Ray Wylie Hubbard spiritually. --Boston Herald
…you do believe the words in his songs, because it's apparent that he has lived 'em. --The Houston Press
Here's a guy who takes regular old rockin' Texas folk country and just adds new songs to the canon… right there alongside the songs of Van Zandt, Clark, Earle, Crowell, Shaver, Keen, Hubbard, et al. Houston, we have a poet. --The Houston Press