Not since fellow Old Quarter alum Diane Craig's Fortunes Told has a member of the OQ fraternity released as impressive a record as Flowers and Liquor, Hayes Carll's ode to the thought-probing properties of alcohol. It certainly doesn't hurt that Carll's songs have been fleshed out by producer Lisa Morales, who rounded up members of her band as well as sidemen such as Bert Wills (Carll's guitar teacher) and accordionist Michael Ramos for the project.
Like Steve Earle, Carll's natural accent thickens when he sings, resulting in lyrics that trail off in half syllables and give the songs an extra shot of melancholy. (It's a quality that sometimes gives Carll trouble in his live shows when the music drowns him out or he folds his six-foot-three frame into a chair rather than standing up and belting it out.)
The future challenge for Hayes will no doubt come from within. Most of the songs on Flowers and Liquor are several years old, and Carll is the first to say he's intimidated by the prospect of penning another 12 songs with a similar depth of emotion, considering his bouts of writer's block and momentary lapses of reason. When Carll and Lisa Morales duet on the shuffly lament "Lost and Lonely," the flavoring of David Spencer's slide guitar and the yearning in their voices evoke rivers of empathy for the nice, mixed-up kid on the barstool nursing his bourbon. "Oh, yes, I get poetic when I've had a few," Carll sings, "but Lord I swear it's hard when you've been dealt all your cards / and the only thing you've ever known / you've done forgotten how to do."
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Carll writes authoritatively by corralling his youthful triumphs and insecurities in a manner that makes them accessible but still leaves room for a multitude of interpretations. It's this ability that gives Carll a leg up on the wannabes who write in forced Texas-size clichés or obscure, misplaced references to, say, an uncle's leg operation that even good ol' Uncle Bob couldn't give a rat's ass about.