Last Night: Adam Carroll & John Evans at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck

Adam Carroll & John Evans McGonigel’s Mucky Duck June 10, 2008

Better than: Any Tuesday night at a bar in Waco with a bunch of Ball Cap Nation frat geeks singing along to “Wave on Wave” or “George’s Bar.”

Download: For a vicious poetic vignette of drug culture, try Carroll’s "Red Bandana Blues."

If there is an overused cliché in Texas music, it is the Townes van Zandt comparison. Disingenuous publicity flacks describing the likes of Pat Green, Cory Morrow and that ilk as “following in the steps” of van Zandt cause my lower intestine to twitch violently. In fact, the number of Texas music yayhoos who deserve to have their names in the same paragraph with van Zandt is probably fewer than the number of decisions The Decider has made during his Presidency that improved the public weal.

But Lockhart low-fi folkie Adam Carroll is a true exception. His new album Old Town Rock n Roll is as poetic as anything in the Texas music genre these days, and, like Hayes Carll, one easily hears true van Zandt and Guy Clark influences in this seasoned writer. Carroll’s eccentric vocal delivery maximizes the term “minimalist” and defines the word “droll.”

I don’t like my nephew
He always hangs around
His jacket smells like reefer
He puts my music down
Says he’s a poet
But his words don’t even rhyme
He’ll never see my Silvertone
Old Porter Wag’ner signed

His performance at Mucky Duck last night was marked by belly laughs and wry moments appreciated for spirit-warming lyricism, but it was slightly marred by too much banter between Carroll and song-swapper John Evans, often at Evans’ initiation. So let’s get this caveat out of the way up front; note to all singer/songwriters doing in-the-round song swaps: shut up and play unless you are funnier than Hayes Carll or Ray Wylie Hubbard. A little bit of banter goes a long way unless it is side-splittingly funny. Most people come to hear your songs, not your b.s. Maybe bring a sand dial with a 30-second timer and when the sand runs through, play a song, for Christsakes.

Those who came to hear serious men play serious songs heard them between the banter. Carroll warmed up with one of his best, “Girl with the Dirty Hair,” and followed with another of his early lyrical treasures, “Rice Birds.” “Hi Fi Love,” a Scott Nolan co-write from Carroll’s new album, demonstrated once again the sharpness of his vision and pen with lines like “You’ve been singing like the devil, always knew she was a girl.” The title track showed the maturing fullness of Carroll’s Beat poet sense of the van Zandt-ian idiom, but Carroll saved his newest crown jewels for the stretch run.

“For those who the road is all that matters, for them who have lived on borrowed time,” beginning the weary “Highway Prayer,” was pure van Zandt incandescence, and the final “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler,” loosely based on a poet’s vision of Leon Russell, was as good as it gets in the Texas music scene, with word-playful rhyming like “he was an Oklahoma gypsy shuffler, comin’ and goin’, low and high, rock n rollin’ hayseed hustler, with his honky tonk wing and his old snake eyes.”

Photos by Vera Mitchell

Local vet Evans gave an extended trip through his six-album catalog that has ranged from the nouveau honky tonk of “Pasa-Get-Down-Dena” to the punky “Circling the Drain” to “Goin’ Down Loud” (which he described as the Beatles meeting Radiohead with Gene Vincent on vocals).

While it was a satisfying performance by both artists, it was a shame they chewed up so much of their set time with word play and forced witticisms when the audience came to hear what they do best: deliver some of the strongest material on the Texas scene today. Even in these Tuesday night in-the-round situations, in this writer’s opinion it is best to remember that you are performing for music lovers, not the local comedy club crowd.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I’ve been hooked on Carroll since I first heard “Errol’s Song” when Carroll opened for Max Stalling and Mark David Manders eight years ago at La Zona Rosa in Austin; he won a rowdy audience over with just an acoustic guitar, some brilliant words, and a dozen cigarettes.

Random Detail: Evans has been known to change his “look” as often as he has changed musical styles, and The Significant Other noted, “he’s got Lyle Lovett’s old hair tonight.”

By the way: Song swap means the swapping of songs. Songs usually have music and singing. Stop the long-winded witty exchanges and play. If the paying crowd wanted standup comedy, they’d be at Laff Stop. – William Michael Smith

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
William Michael Smith