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Album review: Hayes Carll’s ‘KMAG YOYO’

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You can’t listen to this freewheeling Texas singer and songwriter long without becoming thoroughly convinced that he’s a full-blooded relative of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Merle Haggard. Waylon Jennings’ famous observation about Grand Ole Opry standard-bearer Porter Wagoner -- “he couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers’ -- is equally true of Hayes Carll. There’s an unself-conscious commitment to his rural Southern heritage in everything he sings.

He spins a yarn with fresh wit, details a failure with unflinching honesty, and everything in between remains admirably cliché-free.

“Hard Out Here” breathes life into the well-trod genre of life on the road. Carll confesses: “Everybody’s talking ‘bout the shape I’m in/They say, ‘Boy you ain’t a poet, you’re just a drunk with a pen’/It gets hard out here, I know it don’t look it/I used to have heart, but the highway took it.” 'Chances Are” is a classic country weeper that exhibits the revealing, economical turn of phrase that writers such as Haggard, Willie Nelson and John Prine have mastered: “Chances are I took the wrong turn every time I had a turn to take/And I guess I broke my own heart every chance I had a heart to break.”

Carll is every bit as expressive a singer as he is a writer, drawling his trenchant observations with deceptive ease. The phrase “the real deal” is bandied about a lot in country music, but in Carll’s case, as Walter Brennan used to say, it’s “no brag, just fact.”

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-- Randy Lewis

Hayes Carll
“KMAG YOYO”
Lost Highway
Thee and a half stars (out of four)


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