“Nice Things,” the opening track on Hayes Carll’s new album, You Get It All, offers a preview of the wry, tongue-in-cheek, cut-to-the-heart songwriting that fills the rest of the album. Kenny Greenberg’s swampy leads wind around Fats Kaplan’s funky fiddle, laying down a bluesy country jangler that’s as home at a hoedown as it is at a rock club. The bright funky grunge of the music evokes the droll lyrics that take a knife to the heart of our culture’s capitalist excess, its deep social inequities, and its willful avoidance of climate change. “God came down to earth//To enjoy what she’d created/Took a fishing trip to Georgia/To see what she could see/Cast out a holy line/Thought she’d hooked a big one Reeled in a oil barrel/And said ‘On my me!’/…This is why you can’t drink from your own springs/…This is why y’all can’t have good things.” That’s only the first verse, and the song, which Carll co-wrote with the Brothers Osborne—and the album—only gets better.
The title track would make the Carter Family proud; it opens sparsely with a few guitar strums and blossoms into a spiraling country folk ballad about the challenges and rewards of devoting one’s entire self to a relationship, giving everything to other: “from the chapel to the hearse/you get it all.” The poignant “Help Me Remember” recalls John Prine’s “Hello In There”; the echoing verses evoke the hollowness inside a dementia patient’s mind as the patient tries in fits and starts to recall the person with him; Greenberg’s aching steel guitar mimics the sadness of the patient, as well as our melancholic regret over the loss of his vitality and presence. The barroom country rambler “Any Other Way” celebrates living life fully “’til it’s gone”; it kicks off with Kaplan’s roving and rollicking fiddle runs and blends the joy of Sunday morning gospel with Saturday night dive bar rousing sing-alongs in jubilant choruses. “Different Boats” floats along a Peter Green, minor chord blues, while “In the Mean Time,” which Carll co-wrote with Brandy Clark (who also sings vocals on the song), waltzes along the fissures and cracks of anger and frustration that couples dance through to the good times of happiness and love that endures even through the “mean times.” The straight-ahead, good-times, Texas roadhouse rocker “To Keep from Being Found” —replete with Mike Rojas’s Jerry Lee Lewis-like barrelhouse piano and Greenberg’s Chuck Berry-style guitar—celebrates the unexpected joys of the fugitive life: “I ain’t ever going back to Texas/I’ll pay the cost of being lost just to keep from being found.” The album closes with “If It Was Up to Me,” a soaring, piano- and steel-drenched reflection that moves from the singer’s selfishness to his recognition of his deep relationships with others. “If it was up to me/I’d have no enemies/And I’d receive the grace I need without apology And no one that I love/Would ever have to leave…/But it’s not up to me.”
You Get It All displays Hayes Carll at his songwriting best; musically and lyrically these songs reveal Carll’s insights into the raggedness of relationships, the dashed hopes and fervent dreams of individuals dancing together through life, the hollow loneliness of physical and mental loss, and the soul-shattering and redemptive moments we find in love’s embrace. We certainly get all of Carll as he bares his soul in this album, one of the year’s best.
You Get It All is available HERE
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