Trouble In Mind: Sharp, Roadhouse-Friendly Songs
Hayes Carll pines for lost youth differently than Tom Waits or The Ramones. (“Pine” isn’t really a verb you’d apply to the latter two.) Waits growled through the ramshackle original version of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” and The Ramones sawed through theirs with caustic guitars and a callow snarl. On Carll’s latest album, Trouble in Mind, he gives the song a moping country treatment that doesn’t sound a bit menacing or ironic—just heartfelt.
“I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” echoes the gap between the album’s wild-eyed nostalgia and where Carll is in life. A few years back, the 32-year-old Texas native did something revolutionary for a hard-living troubadour: He settled down with a wife and a kid. But family life hasn’t yet colored his songwriting.
The 14 tracks on Trouble—his third album and ?rst for Lost Highway—revolve around footloose rambling, drinking and badly mangled love affairs. There’s “Faulkner Street”—a bottleneck-seared romp reminiscing about a youthful lounging-and-partying lifestyle. “I Got a Gig” channels the “homeless Cheers on meth” where Carll first earned a living playing music in the coastal Texas community of Crystal Beach. As he puts it, it’s “a place where a lot of people move to hide out from the law, or ex-wives or the IRS.”
“When I started, I wasn’t listening to [songwriters] to hear them sing about their children or how happy they were,” says Carll. “The guys that I was into, it was about the travel and the broken hearts and the toll that life takes on you. That’s what I started out writing, and I was living that for a long time.
“Now it’s not me sitting alone by there, looking at the stars on the beach, smoking dope every night; now it’s me putting my kid to bed when I’m at home,” he continues. “I realized at some point that I was fairly happy and that was not a place that I was used to writing from. I dug up previous times and memories to have something to write about and to preserve them for myself.”
Carll bridged past and present most successfully with the Stingaree Music Festival he launched in Crystal Beach last year. For this year’s edition, he lured musical cohorts like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott Nolan, Will Kimbrough and Darrell Scott—all involved with the new album—down to his old stomping grounds.
The tired, leathery sag in Carll’s voice may also lead him toward rougher songs. He sounds amused when he talks about how people describe his singing. “The gist is that I have a really strong Southern drawl and I sound intoxicated,” he says. “When I’m singing about those things, maybe those are more believable than if I was singing about the deficit or something. I wouldn’t believe ‘The Pilgrim’ if Mariah Carey was singing it, but when Kris Kristofferson sings it I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah.’ ”
Trouble has one contrite-sounding song that Carll wrote for his wife with Scott—“Willing to Love Again.” “I call it a degenerate love song,” says Carll. “It’s just an apology for the shit I put her through over the years. I just didn’t know how to sing about the redemption part, the thank you. Darrell [Scott] really helped me out.”
If that song’s any indication, Carll will and his own way to talk about love and responsibility. “What I’m trying to do now is evolve a little bit as a writer, and I realize that every song doesn’t have to be about how I’m hammered and lonely,” he says. “I figure if I’m going to do this that it’s [about] capturing all the moments. It just was a tough transition to write about how beautiful my son is or how much I love my wife when it was not something I’d ever done before.”