Hayes Carll (Lost High, 2011)
Despite the best efforts of the Nashville industry, country music refuses to die, and Hayes Carll’s new album is living proof. It has lyrics about wandering (“Hard Out Here”) and whiskey (“Bottle in My Hand”) and Mama (“Grateful for Christmas”). It’s got the twangy guitars and the sentimental moan of the pedal steel. So, of course, you’ll never hear a lick of Hayes Carll on today’s country radio.
Carll subtitled this record—with punctuation—(& other American stories). And on the lyric sheet the songs are labeled as “Chapters 1-12.” That could be pretentious if the lyrics weren’t so richly detailed. They sometimes sound like overheard barroom or coffee shop conversations, with the headline news channel playing in the background.
In an interview with the Austin-based website, The9513.com, Carll said of the songs’ topical content, “Partly it’s a matter of being out on the road all year. People come out to the shows and you talk to them every night and you hear the stories. . . . Someone’s looking for work, his brother’s in Afghanistan.”
For the young people Carll meets in honky tonks and rock clubs, Afghanistan is more real than reality TV. The album’s baffling title itself comes from that experience. It’s military slang for “Kiss My Ass Goodbye. You’re on Your Own.” And the song in which it occurs is a wildly surreal, and appropriately cynical, rendering of the invading American soldier’s plight, with the music from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” turned up to 11.
The song “Grateful for Christmas” has three scenes of family gatherings for “the birth of our Lord.” In the first, the narrator is a child at his grandparents’ house. In the second, he’s a restless young man, and Grandpa is dead. In the third, he’s ripened into maturity and assumed the role of family patriarch himself. Here’s hoping we get to follow Hayes Carll through that whole cycle of life.