My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Scott Davis

Album Review: Hayes Carll – ‘KMAG YOYO (& other American stories)’

Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll made a big impact with 2008’s critically acclaimed Trouble In Mind and the unforgettable single ‘She Left Me For Jesus’. His latest album bears the fruits of the last couple of years touring and writing. His voice has a limited range, but it has a character which fits well with his often quirky songwriting. Hayes wrote all the material, almost entirely solo, and he has developed impressively as a writer since his last record, good though that was.

He opens with the rockabillyish ‘Stomp And Holler’ of a potential teenage delinquent (“like James Brown but white and taller”) frustrated with a life on minimum wage when he sees others raking it in from crime. Hayes has a gift for portraying marginalized individuals, but I was disappointed with the title track (co-written with John Evans and with band member Scott Davis). Although it has an interesting (if bizarre) storyline, about a teenage soldier with a drug dealing sideline turned experimental drugs subject for the US government, the complete lack of melody (it is sung almost all on one note) makes it virtually unlistenable, and the pace it is rattled out makes it hard to understand without the lyric sheet or until you’ve heard it a few times. Fortunately, everything else here is worthwhile.

A couple of the songs draw on the life of a travelling musician. In the cleverly written ‘Hard Out Here’ he self-deprecatingly plays a washed up musician bemoaning his lot in a bar somewhere, with honky tonk pianoand a room choir of similarly gravelly voices backing him up. Even better is the folky banjo-led ‘Bottle In My Hand’, which features guest vocals from fellow singer-songwriters Corb Lund and Todd Snider on a rambler’s testimony. The lyrics reference country songs ranging from ‘Howling At The Moon’ to ‘Rainbow Stew’. ‘The Letter’ is a love song from the road; the writer is something of a lost soul, but his longing for the one at home seems genuine.

The closely observed and mostly spoken ‘Grateful For Christmas’ is the most obviously autobiographical song here. With an affectionate honesty reminiscent of Tom T Hall at his best, it shows us a family at three Christmases: with the protagonist as a child, as a disgruntled youth, and finally as head of the household. Grandpa dies between the first and second verses, and the protagonist’s father between the second and third. This is outstanding, and feels like a modern standard in the making.

My favorite track is the low-key ballad ‘Chances Are’, which sees a man looking back on a life filled with bad choices but still hopeful that he and the woman he has just met (and to whom the song is addressed) may find some healing together. This is beautifully put together and heartbreakingly interpreted, with sympathetic steel guitar underpinning the mood:

Chances are I took the wrong turn
Every time I had a turn to make
And I guess I broke my own heart
Every time I had a heart to break
And it seems I spent my whole life
Wishin’ on the same unlucky star

The hushed ‘Hide Me’ (also very effective with its quietly gospelly backing vocals making it into a kind of secular hymn) draws from a similar emotional place, with a man tired of

All those years running round
Of flying high and fallin’ down
Well, the time has come at last
To rest my heart and ease my past

The downbeat mandolin-led ‘Bye Bye Baby’ is a quietly crestfallen response to the end of a relationship, when “the drunks have turned to strangers and the stars are out of tune”; this is a another very fine song. More complicated is the relationship depicted in the mid-tempo ‘The Lovin’ Cup’ where a couple break up after “a couple bad years” and then get back together.

‘Another Like You’ is an ironic duet with Cary Ann Hearst which shows a drunken pair of opposites getting together, at least for the night, and unable to keep apart despite constant (often funny) sniping at each other about their political differences. The drawled feel-good ‘Grand Parade’, which sets falling in life against an everyday life backdrop is as engaging, but a little less memorable; co-writer John Evans sings harmony here.

This is an excellent set of songs in the Texas troubadour tradition, and while Hayes does not have the best voice in the world. he is effective at conveying his material.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jason Eady – ‘When The Money’s All Gone’

When The Money's All GoneJason Eady’s new album (his third) is produced by Kevin Welch, and was recorded in Texas, where the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter is based, although the state most frequently mentioned in his lyrics is Louisiana. His initial influences were country, but along the way he fell in love with Texas singer-songwriters, and his music falls on the modern folk-leaning singer-songwriter side of country with blues elements and a very Southern vibe; the record label, meanwhile, is pushing this album as “blue-eyed soul”. Whatever the genre, the end result is very good. Eady is a very poetic writer with an interesting voice, and the lyrics repay close attention. It is disappointing that the lyrics are not included in the liner notes, which claim they are available on the artist’s website (not currently the case). The first time I listened to it I did so paying close attention to each of the songs, and I was enraptured. The second time, I had it on while doing something else, and it did fade into the background, thanks to the lack of variation in tempos and lack of country radio-style obvious hooks. It’s definitely worth investing some time in listening to it.

The album opens arrestingly with the jaunty bluesy-gospel vibe and dominant harmonica of the instantly likeable sinner’s ‘God Fearing Blues’, with backing vocals from the fellow-Texas-based songwriters who make up the Band Of Heathens. The narrator sounds less than depressed as he tells us:

“I got baptized when I was ten
I got a little dirty so I did it again
The preacher said ‘son why are you back so soon?’
I said ‘let’s get this done, I got things to do’
I was saved in the morning
And back that afternoon

Well, I sing ‘Hallejujah’ and I shout ‘Amen’
And I wrestle with the devil and sometimes I win
(Sometimes I lose)
Well, I hate to disappoint you
But I got these no-good living, white line loving, roadhouse singing, good time, God-fearing blues”

A long instrumental outro to this song leads into the title track, another highlight, which Jason wrote with Walt Wilkins, who produced his last album, the excellent Redemption. Along the same lines musically as the previous song, it is a biting response to current economic issues:

“Everything’s had and nothing is owned
Aorund it goes until the money’s all gone…

Lose a little and you can scream and shout
You gotta lose big before they bail you out…

But when the money’s all gone
We’ll get back to work, get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It’s an ill wind doesn’t blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should
It might not be the worst thing after all
When the money’s all gone.”

Also in the same vein are the enjoyably mellow ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Fine’, the brooding ‘Watering Hole’ (written with Scott Davis) and the very visual ‘Travelling Show’ (written with Kurt South). ‘Evangeline’ has a Cajun feel with more Band Of Heathens’ backing vocals and accordion, but is one of the less ambitious lyrics. ‘Judgment Day’ (another Scott Davis co-write) is a lyrically rather dark and fatalistic gospel number, but sounds positively hypnotic.

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