Portland Preview: Hayes Carll
Let's say you're into pop music. Rock, country, alt-rock, alt-country, alt-whatever. You already know who you like, but where do you go to find new stuff you might like just as much or even more?
That used to be the radio's job. You'd turn on your favorite station and somewhere in the mix of bands you knew, artists you loved and the ones you were willing to sit through, you'd hear something unfamiliar. The latest rage. Or maybe a new sound just gathering steam in Wichita or Buffalo or Medicine Hat.
But when I scan the radio dial now, most of what comes out is old. Like, really old. Like in, it might require carbon dating, if you didn't have such vivid memories of hearing it at the prom, or in junior high or in the carpool on the way to preschool.
There's a reason for this. Radio programmers do a lot of audience research -- focus groups, telephone polls, that sort of thing -- and what they've discovered about us, the average radio listeners, is that our tastes and interests get formed pretty early in life. For most casual music fans, the world divides like this: Bands they heard and loved before they turned 20, and then everything after that. Which, frankly, doesn't interest them at all.
Hey, I like the oldies, too. I just spent a perfectly enjoyable three minutes listening to the Beatles' "Please Please Me" for what might be the 20,000th time in the past 45 years. It would still be a great tune if it had been released today. But here's the catch: If the Beatles were a fresh new band just breaking out of Liverpool, you'd never hear them on the radio.
Which brings us to Hayes Carll, who you're also not hearing on the radio. And that's a shame because his acclaimed new album, "Trouble in Mind," has this tune called "She Left Me for Jesus," which is a hook-filled country romp featuring the protestations of a clueless, lovelorn yokel complaining about his girlfriend's new beau. "She says I should find him, and I'll know peace at last," he sings. "But if I ever find Jesus, I'm kickin' his . . ." You can probably guess the rhyme.
But you might not guess how a guy can take so many time-worn themes -- drinkin' and singin' and purty women -- and make them seem fresh again. But spin the CD and hear it for yourself. Check out the crunchy guitars and Stones-like bluster in his cover of Scott Nolan's "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart." Or the nostalgic melancholy in the hard-rocking but deceptively melancholy "Faulkner Street," which recounts parties of yore, only with the hard-won wisdom that comes with maturity. Elsewhere, he frets about death and basically comes off like the smartest, coolest country hipster this side of Austin.
So, what are the chances that any of us will be hearing any of this on the Portland airwaves? Not so good.
"He's great, obviously, but he just doesn't sound like he wants to be played on country radio," KWJJ (99.5) morning host Amy Faust says, noting how his rough-hewn twang contrasts with the slicker sounds of country dynamos Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift.
Over at KINK (101.9), music director Dean Kattari says more or less the same thing. "That twang stuff generally doesn't work with the general flow of our music," he says.
Don't even ask about the paleolithic world of Stones/Zep/Who/Lynyrd Skynyrd playlist of classic rock.
So, where can you go to check out Carll's work, or anyone else you might find interesting? Here, the Internet is your best friend. Many radio stations stream their broadcasts on the Internet, too, and adventurous rock fans can monitor the wide-ranging playlists of New York's WFUV (wfuv.org) or Philadelphia's WXPN (xpn.org). Locally, KINK offers several streams of music on its Web site (kink.fm), including one devoted entirely to new music. Meanwhile, the vast universe of Myspace holds a million aspiring artists, all of whom come offering samples of their wares.
Still, you don't need a computer to find new music. The so-new-you've-probably-never-heard-of-it HD radio band allows stations to send out multiple signals to anyone with an HD receiver (many are also streamed on the Internet). Portland's KNRK, which probably plays more new music than anyone in Portland, including a hefty helping of local bands, has an HD band that only plays unsigned local artists.
And what of our too-alt-rock-for-country-and-too-country-for-alt-rock friend, Hayes Carll? The slightly curious can tune into KWJJ (99.5) about 9:15 a.m. Thursday to hear me beg Amy Faust and Mike Chase to give the boy some laser time. Or steer your computer to hayescarll.com to hear more. And if that turns you on, head to the Old 97's show Sunday night at the Wonder Ballroom. Carll's opening the show, and I'll be there in the front, digging the tunes and feeling, if not quite 20, a lot younger than usual.