Hayes Carll is a seriously funny guy. In some songs, the Texas singer-songwriter sincerely pretends to be God lecturing human beings about despoiling the earth, an older man trying not to lose his mind and memories, and a husband who solemnly believes in the power of love. On others, Carll is a braggart who boasts about the absurd: a monkey is man’s best friend, he has his own money tree, and his lawyer spreads love all around. The thing is, Carll’s often the most serious when he’s being funny and vice versa. And he knows it!
“I spend my time just laughing at a joke nobody gets,” Carll croons on “Any Other Way”. He delivers existential observations the way most people talk about the weather. He’s got a voice like the rough stubble of a man with a five o’clock shadow. It’s coarse and rough but not quite a beard, more the outline of one. He mutters when he sings. You can understand every word despite his Lone Star drawl. His lyrics are deep by pretending to be shallow.
Carll plays acoustic guitar on less than half the cuts. He lets others like Kenny Greenberg (guitar), Fats Kaplan (fiddle, steel guitar), Glen Worf (bass), and Fred Eltringham (drums) handle the instrumental chores. The music has a slow and easy vibe. The songs flow like a babbling brook in the autumn when fallen leaves and broken branches block the currents. That’s part of Carll’s charm. His songs have a natural vibe that sounds familiar. You think you’ve heard them before, like that radio station you sing along to that plays those forgotten 45s, but you can’t quite figure out why you know those songs. Was that the slow one you used to dance to when you were a shy kid or that one you used to hum while walking along in the woods?
All the songs on You Get It All are co-written, including several with his wife, Allison Moorer (who co-produced the record with guitarist Greenberg), and other notables such as Brandy Clark, Waylon Payne, and Pat McLaughlin. That yields two benefits. Carll’s consistent presence ties the 11 songs together, not only in terms of his voice but on a higher level of consciousness. He’s got an attitude, whether he’s complaining about social hypocrisies or praising the good things in life. Carll has a distinctive style due to his shaggy dog way of telling a tale. The other co-writers help ensure all the songs don’t sound alike, even if they share the same general outlook.
Carll is an affable guy who can’t help himself from telling the truth even when he’s spouting a lie. He keeps his tongue in cheek as he looks you in the eye and swears he’s not kidding. The songs on his latest album showcase his ability to address solemn topics, like climate change, heartbreak, and dementia, as well as lighter ones like what’s for supper and mixed-matched lovers, with the same combination of earnestness, grace, and humor. It’s a neat trick, but when listening to Carll, you get it all.