Seems like every year I come to South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, I find myself penciling in a showcase by Hayes Carll. He’s been threatening to make a new album for a while, and finally it’s done — and well worth the wait. At a midnight show on Cedar Street Courtyard last night (March 14), he previewed a lot of songs from his third album, Trouble in Mind, which will be released on Lost Highway Records on April 8. He once declared that he was going to write a song called “The Luckiest Mirror in the World,” but I guess I’ll have to wait a few more years for that one.
Hayes is a Houston native who spent some post-college years hanging out on the Bolivar Peninsula, sharpening his songwriting skills and learning how to play for drunks — two qualities that always come in handy at SXSW. I’ve had the new album for a few weeks and it’s exceptional. His speaking voice was scratchy last night, probably from making the media rounds and the flu that’s going around, but he gave it everything he had when he sang. He doesn’t lose the twang in his speaking voice when he sings, and even though it’s not straight-up country, it’s hard to imagine him as a rock ‘n’ roller either.
I first met Hayes five years ago when he put out his first album, Flowers & Liquor, and it’s been a kick to see him improve on stage, and in song, every time we cross paths. I think there’s a big difference between being clever and being a smart-aleck, and Hayes isn’t a smart aleck. So I wasn’t offended at all by his finale, “She Left Me For Jesus,” about a relationship that falls apart when the woman finds the Lord. (You can hear it on his MySpace page.) The crowd seemed to like it, and only an easygoing guy like Hayes, who is always in on the joke, could get away with it.