Sounds Like Trouble
Hayes Carll would never say he’s the most talented guy in the world, but the thirty-two-year-old singer-songwriter had a leg up on the competition in the Gulf of Mexico town of Crystal Beach, Texas. “I was the only one in town who could sing and play guitar at the same time,” he says. “I walked into a bar, asked to play, and said if they liked it, I’d come back. I ended up playing there every week for a year.”
It was in Crystal Beach—a hard-partying end-of-the-line town for sun worshippers, drinkers, and social misfits—where Carll honed his chops playing in cover bands at dives like Bob’s Sports Bar and World Famous Grill. “It was a pretty rowdy atmosphere, a lot of shrimper beer joints,” he says. “It’s where I started to find my voice.” On his day off, he’d take the ferry over to Galveston and play his own songs—much of them culled from his Crystal Beach experiences—in the city’s burgeoning singer-songwriter scene.
Plenty of that material appears on Carll’s raw and rambling third album, Trouble in Mind. Carll is one of country music’s most vivid storytellers, something he traces back to his childhood outside of Houston, where he spent hours writing poems and short stories. But then his songwriting jones kicked in after he saw a folk trio play some Bob Dylan tunes at his local church.
“‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ knocked me on the floor,” he says. “And I realized, there’s more gratification in writing a three-minute song than a three-hundred-page book.” Trouble in Mind is filled with rogue characters who chase hits of mescaline with shots of whiskey, lament lost love, and sink deeper into despair as the empties pile up. Not all the songs are downers, though. The album’s highlight is “She Left Me for Jesus,” a hilarious yarn about a woman who leaves her boyfriend for a guy named Jesus. Not surprisingly, the song has raised the hackles of Jonathan Falwell (Jerry’s son) and garnered praise from Don Imus, who played it three times on a recent show and proclaimed it “the greatest country song
Carll pays the attention no mind, spending time with his three-year-old son and wife at home in Austin when he’s not on the road. But when he’s playing gigs, he enjoys hanging with a rougher lot. “I usually write about loneliness, alcoholism, and depression, but when your three-year-old wants to play a game, it’s not really conducive to writing about the seedier things in life,” he says. “I have to go back out onto the road to find those things again.”