Hayes Carll and Band On Point at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge
For the first twenty minutes of his show at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge, Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll didn’t care much for small talk. Songs like “Hard Out Here” and “Trouble in Mind” passed by with barely a word uttered between them. Carll’s clever brand of country-rock, featuring incisive songwriting reminiscent of heroes Ray Wylie Hubbard and Robert Earl Keen, said about all he needed to say.
Carll, a Houston native who now resides in Austin, would have good reason to crow about his recent accomplishments. His fourth album, KMAG YOYO (And Other American Stories) debuted at No. 12 on the country albums chart in February, and five of his songs were featured in the recent motion picture Country Strong. After a few songs, Carll seemed more comfortable on stage, referring to “a recession or depression or whatever” and expressing his gratitude for all the ticket buyers in the audience.
The majority of the set list stemmed from his breakthrough album, 2008’s Trouble in Mind, but he reached back to his 2005 album Little Rock for a rambunctious version of its title track, and then he supplied his laconic drawl to the laidback “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long.”
Adding a lively burst to the evening was Cary Ann Hearst, half of the opening act called Shovels and Rope, who duets with Carll on KMAG YOYO’s “Another Like You.” On a song that explains how alcohol and sex can trump politics, her tangy Southern-bred vocals served as a perfect counterpoint to Carll’s grumbling baritone.
He used the 80-minute performance to preview a new song: the tongue-in-cheek “One Bed, Two Girls, and Three Bottles of Wine” likely needs no further explanation. There were signs of better behavior, though: announcing that it was his wife’s 33rd birthday, he praised her for putting up with a traveling musician and eased into the sad but hopeful ballad “Willin’ to Love Again.”
Carll and his five-piece band, The Poor Choices, were predictably on point. Utility man Scott Davis laid the groundwork, leading the band on uptempo romps like “Stomp and Holler” (the audience accepted the challenge) and “KMAG YOYO.” The frontman has learned a musical trick or two, too: before “I Got a Gig,” Carll pulled out the banjo to perform what he said was the one song he’d learned on the instrument.
One notable omission on Thursday night was “She Left Me for Jesus,” the 2008 Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year. It’s a testament to the strength of Carll’s material that its absence didn’t leave a big void in the evening.
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