ACL preview: Austin's own Hayes Carll, modern Americana troubadour
His accent rivals the twangiest of Texas twangs, his early inspiration drawn from Bob Dylan and John Prine. He towers over the mic on stage, but quickly overshadows his stature with his unique brand of lyrical humor.
Hayes Carll is a true representation of the modern Americana scene. A born and raised Texan hailing from The Woodlands, Carll has been playing in barrooms, lounges and signature small stages (Saxon Pub and Cactus Cafe) for over a decade.
On the heels of his most recent release, 2011’s KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories), he’s on the move to bigger venues and festivals like Bonaroo, and this Sunday evening at ACL Music Festival. It’s not his first ACL appearance, but easily his most notable time slot, playing opposite Randy Newman and just before Grammy Award-winning sensation Arcade Fire closes down this year’s fest.
Carll first broke onto the national Americana scene with Trouble in Mind, released by Lost Highway Records (the label behind some of alt-country’s biggest names – Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams included) in 2008.
Though Lost Highway has only been backing him for a few years, Carll did a hell of a job building a steady, if regional, following with his first two independent albums: Flowers and Liquor (2002) and Little Rock (2004), released on his own label, Highway 87. These earlier examples of his songwriting point clearly toward Carll’s trajectory as a writer and performer; they meld the subtle humor of John Prine and poetic cadence of Bob Dylan with autobiographic lyrics and rock n' roll influences.
He's also influenced by Texas's own Ray Wylie Hubbard (yes, the one responsible for "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother" and more recently "Snake Farm"). Hubbard and Carll have co-written on two of Carll's albums, first a song about chickens, aptly titled "Chickens" (Little Rock) and more recently, the more polished and full-bodied "Drunken Poet's Dream" (Trouble in Mind).
Though separated by several generations, the two share a unique ability to weave the mundane (chickens in the front yard, for instance) into a poetic story that fits right with the essence of the growing Americana genre.
Carll's skill as a songwriter has led to a catalog of tunes from the past decade that are identifiable for a growing audience. These are the kind of songs that will become your companion on the road: you can relate to the reality and laugh at the subtle humor infused into most, if not all, of his tunes.
On stage, Carll gets down to business playing, incorporating classic rock n' roll and folk elements. He also injects a heavy dose of humor and storytelling into his sets, a tactic that has become a signature draw for his shows over the years. But it's not all laughs. Sure, he may sing about "Naked Checkers" or "Chickens," but there are plenty of tunes with depth in his repertoire.
If you're looking for a solid, lighthearted (and local) end to this year's ACL, meet Hayes Carll Sunday at the Austin Ventures stage Sunday at 7:30 pm. You're guaranteed a taste of Texas-grown music and humor from this year's Americana Music Association Artist of the Year.