What It Is
Country Rocking That Won’t Ever Fade Away.
It’s always baffled me as to why some songwriters have the ability to make their songs sound as if you’ve known them all your life, although it was only 40 minutes ago you first placed the platter onto the turntable.
Such is the way with Hayes Carll’s sixth album What It Is.
I only discovered his talents two years ago via the Lovers & Leavers album; which made me buy a couple of his earlier albums as downloads.
If you’ve ever seen the film or read the book High Fidelity, you’ll know that one of the things the guys in the shop like doing is making lists, and a popular one is ‘Great Opening Tracks’ and I’m going to throw None’ya into that hat! On most other albums this terrific song about a crumbling relationship would easily be my Favourite Track; but it actually doesn’t even make the Top 3 on this disc!
I have to say I wasn’t quite prepared for the punchy Rock & Roll of the second song Times Like These! After three or four plays it hit me that it’s actually quite a political song; with a wild Jerry Lee Lewis vocal performance and a very danceable melody too.
Two songs in and you already have your head spun 360 degrees; as Hayes Carll shows his rare talent as both a solo performer and a bandleader too.
I guess it would be quite some late night argument as to whether Hayes Carll is first and foremost a singer or a songwriter. I think on this album it’s actually a score draw; as I can’t remember him singing any better than on the Honky Tonking Rocking & Rolling Beautiful Thing or the swinging Country-Folk of American Dream, which is also full of pithy observations of the country he now finds himself living in.
Then again his songwriting (or co-writing……. my Advance copy doesn’t say who wrote what; but Matraca Berg, Adam Landry and Allison Moorer are in the mix here somewhere too) is more mature and possibly more observational than I remember; with If I May Be So Bold and the gentle love song I Will Stay being prime examples of someone at the very top of their game.
If you want a Country song that will break your heart, look no further than Be There; it’s one of the very few I’ve heard in recent years that isn’t ‘paint by numbers’ and the way it builds and builds via a tight band and an orchestra, reminds me of Buddy Holly’s transition from straight forward Rock n Roller into Superstar territory, and speaking of Country songs……. Carll even makes me like the banjo again via the sparkling title track What It Is; although with a song this good he could bang a dustbin lid and I’d still like it.
Being the contrary so & so I am I can’t choose None’ya as my Favourite Song nor the immaculate Jesus & Elvis …. because everyone else will; as well as them being the songs you will hear on the wireless; no…… I’m going left of centre with Fragile Men, which somehow mixes all kinds of weird elements via a pedal-steel, a violin encased inside a big cinematic orchestral shroud; a’la Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits; and leaves you gasping for breath.
The song that immediatly follows, Wild Pointy Finger doesn’t have that orchestral backdrop; but just like Fragile Men takes us into unknown territory for an Americana songwriter; and one he appears to revel in!
On the one hand this is possibly Hayes Carll’s most commercial album to date; but when you peel away the veneer it’s very much a turning point and heralds a glorious future for this very accomplished young man.
Released February 15th 2019