Hayes Carll

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I suspect there is a contingent that will howl long and loud that Hayes Carll's third album (and first on the Lost Highway label) is too slick, too Nashville, not raw enough. In their way they will be right, but I don't want to get into that argument. To these ears, Carll and producer Brad Jones have done exactly what the label hired them to do: point a musical arrow at the sweet spot core of Carll's audience and let the ripples work their way out from there. Carll dances with what brung him here: his above-average sense of humor, a respect for the raggedness of the minstrel life and a love for poets like van Zandt, Clark and Eaglesmith. "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" is as roadhouse Texas country as it gets, "Willing to Love Again" will be played at weddings for years to come, and "She Left Me For Jesus," which the edgiest alternative radio stations are going to play like an advertisement for the Second Coming, swerves dangerously across the line between irony and blasphemy like a drunk at the wheel of a Greyhound bus (and Carll's attitude says, "If you don't get it, screw you"). It's a no-brainer why Jones and Carll recut "It's a Shame" with a more commercial country sound: some Nashville heavyweight is eventually going to cut that song. Folks who didn't like or get Carll before aren't likely to be convinced by this record, but people who dig his sense of humor and his plaintive "why me" vocals are gonna play the hell out of it whether the critics like it or not.

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