The Americana singer/songwriter rises from the Stephen King approved indie ranks to the major-label sweepstakes on his third release, and first for Lost Highway. It’s a strong if characteristic collection of rugged country folk-rock sung with Hayes Carll’ Texas drawl, that seems to be somewhat exaggerated so that we know he’s from the land of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and Guy Clark, some obvious influences that snake through these 14 tracks. He’s been there and done that, struggling through years of the hard living that informs tunes such as the humorous take on his trying times detailed in the self-explanatory “I Got a Gig.” The usual suspect topics of heavy drinking, bad wimmen, hell raisin’, misplaced love and life along the lost highway dominate the lyrics, and even though Carll isn’t exploring these well-worn subjects in particularly new ways, his melodies, words, and especially his professional backing are strong enough to put them over in tunes that aren’t as clichéd as the topics covered. He also has a wry, dry sense of humor, best exemplified in “She Left Me for Jesus” (“She left me for Jesus,” and that just ain’t fair, she says that ‘he’s perfect.’ How could I compare”). Carll is clearly a Tom Waits fan; he sings Waits‘ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” with an effective amount of irony already built into the tune. “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” (interestingly not the Waits tune) is another cover, this one from Canadian Scott Nolan, given a peppy, rocking, Stones styled makeover that epitomizes the album’s areas of emphasis. Carll is occasionally too cutesy for his own good as on “Girl Downtown,” a singsongy tale with a simplistic melody that trips over its own sardonic intentions. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Brad Jones frames these tunes with terrific backing musicians highlighted by veteran Al Perkins‘ always inventive pedal steel. It all sounds great; full when it needs to be but sparse enough to shake off any concerns previous fans of Carll’s indie releases might have about a major-label sellout.