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Arts/Culture

Hayes Carll

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NPR
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Muddy Bottom Blues

Program #274 (January 21 at 8:00pm and January 22 at 3:00pm)

Singer and songwriter Hayes Carll is an artist whose rootsy sound finds room for the playful swagger of rock & roll, the relatable storytelling of country, and the thoughtful introspection of folk.

Capable of singing about boozy debauchery and relationships in the balance with equal skill, Carll rose through the ranks of the Americana community after emerging on the scene in the early 2000s, making his breakthrough as an independent artist and maintaining a regular guy's outlook even as he found a sizable audience. 2005's self-released Little Rock was a commercial and critical breakthrough, 2011's KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) and 2016's Lovers and Leavers were widely acclaimed as among his finest work, and 2021's You Get It All found him embracing a purer country influence.

Born Joshua Hayes Carll in Houston on January 9, 1976, the singer/songwriter received his first guitar at the age of 15 and almost immediately began writing songs influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and the Beat-era writings of Jack Kerouac, all of which continued to reverberate in Carll's mature songwriting style.

After graduating in 1998 with a history degree from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Carll returned to Texas, settling in Crystal Beach, where he played his own material in the local bars. After a stay in Austin, he returned home and continued to play gigs in the Galveston and Houston area, picking up a loyal following.

Carll signed to Compadre Records and in 2002 released a debut album, Flowers and Liquor, which garnered him favorable comparisons to Townes Van Zandt. Turning down a deal from Sugar Hill Records, Carll released his second album, Little Rock, on his own Highway 87 Records; produced by R.S. Field, it reached the top spot on the Americana charts in 2005.

He signed with Universal Music's roots-music subsidiary Lost Highway Records in 2006, and they released Trouble in Mind in 2008. Carll's clever, witty lyrics developed a strong ironic streak, particularly on "She Left Me for Jesus," a song he had co-written with Brian Keane. Carll's reputation got a boost when four of his songs appeared the 2010 film Country Strong, with Gwyneth Paltrow in the starring role.

Now firmly established as a next-generation Texas singer and writer in the manner of Lone Star icons such as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, Carll released a second album for Lost Highway, KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories), in 2011. (The title comes from a bit of military slang; it's an abbreviation for "Kiss My Ass Guys, You're on Your Own.") The album won the Americana Music Association's Album of the Year award and was placed on several year-end best-of lists by media outlets.

Carll and Lost Highway parted company the following year; he and his wife also divorced around this time, and he began reassessing his career, sticking closer to Austin while he still toured the U.S. and Europe regularly over the next few years. Carll enjoyed a windfall in 2014 when Lee Ann Womack covered his song "Chances Are" and scored a minor hit; the song, Womack, and Carll all received Grammy nominations in 2015 for Best Country Solo Performance, while Womack's album featuring the tune, The Way I'm Livin', was also nominated for Best Country Album.

In January 2016, Carll issued the single "The Love That We Need," co-written with Allison Moorer and Jack Ingram. The song was a preview of Carll's fifth studio album, Lovers and Leavers, which was recorded with producer Joe Henry, and issued the following April on Hwy 87 Records via Thirty Tigers. Carll partnered with the roots-oriented independent label Dualtone Records to release 2019's What It Is, which was produced by Allison Moorer in collaboration was bassist and recording engineer Brad Jones. That same year, Carll and Moorer were married.

Carll spent quarantine time in early 2020 by revisiting his songbook, releasing the results as Alone Together Sessions in August that year. The album contained cameos by Ray Wylie Hubbard and Allison Moorer. Moorer was back in the studio with Kenny Greenberg to produce Carll's next project, 2021's You Get It All, a country-oriented LP that featured a guest vocal from Brandy Clark. A video was released for one of the tracks, "Help Me Remember," that also served as a public service announcement for Alzheimer's disease awareness.

(provided by Allmusic)