Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO

January 01, 1970

(Lost Highway)




It used to be a part of the job description for rock critics to claim
they’d found “the next Dylan” every once in a while. If that were still true,
Hayes Carll might garner at least a few nods for the role, especially now that
he’s gone and written a masterful new song on the “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
template. But KMAG YOYO (which in
military slang means “Kiss my ass, guys, you’re on your own”) isn’t a laundry
list of alienated and paranoid images so much as an open-hearted look into the
mind of a scared young man trapped in the role of a soldier because he had no
other options in life. The word-play is clever, the music rocks, but Hayes
Carll just can’t wear the judgmental hats necessary to Dylan’s wardrobe.


Nope, not so much the next Dylan as maybe the next Billy Joe Shaver,
if you’re looking for a songwriter with as much stylistic range within the
boundaries of Texas country music. Carll, like Shaver, casts a clear gaze on
his subjects, but isn’t afraid to sentimentalize them a little bit to make a point.
“Chances Are” is a perfect example, wherein Carll’s narrator makes us think
he’s almost certainly a loser in love and life, but winds up having more of a
chance at happiness than is given in your average country song set in a bar
with a good-looking woman across the room. And then there’s “Grateful For
Christmas,” with some of the sweetest and most touching images imaginable of
the changes in family life across the years. The holiday references aren’t as
important as the details of getting together every year.


Another possibility, though a long-shot, is to view Carll as the next
Delbert McClinton, but you’d have to remember that McClinton used to sing a lot
more country than he’s done these past couple decades of primarily being an
r’n’b-ish belter. Carll doesn’t have the chops to pull off McClinton’s trickier
vocal techniques, but his voice isn’t that dissimilar, and in at least a couple
places on this new record, his phrasing comes straight out of that playbook. In
fact, “Stomp and Holler,” the rip-roaring opening track, and the most deserving
potential hit single here, sounds a lot like McClinton taking on “Most Likely
You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine).” That is assuredly a compliment.


Carll immediately leapt to the top of the Americana world with his major label debut
album Trouble In Mind back in 2008.
There’s nothing on KMAG YOYO that’s
half as insistently funny as “She Left Me For Jesus,” or as insistently iconic
as “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” but that’s fine. Instead, Carll has songs that are
catchy enough to get under the skin, are rich enough to keep the mind working,
and are consistent enough to make this an even better overall album. Maybe he’s
really just the next Hayes Carll.


DOWNLOAD: “Stomp and
Holler,” “Grateful For Christmas,” “KMAG YOYO.” STEVE PICK

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