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Album Review: Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO
BLAKE BOLDT | FEBRUARY 2ND, 2011
The title of Hayes Carll’s fourth and best album is a reference to the military acronym that stands for “Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re on Your Own,” and a pair of tracks weave personalnarratives into political statements. The title cut, with rapid fire verses a la REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” bundles up thenervous energy of a teenage soldier in Afghanistan. “God don’t let me die here,” Carll groans. “I ain’t even nineteen.” Few country songs could approach the topic with half as much emotional insight. Then “Another Like You,” a zany duet with Cary Ann Hearst, imagines a booty call between a couple fromseparate sides of the political aisle. (“You’re probably a Democrat,” she spits. “What the hell is wrong with that?” he counters.) Carll, with his tattered drawl, sounds almost (but not quite) apologetic about lusting for this conservative barroom queen.
Elsewhere, Carll delves further into the sometimes perplexing decisions of men approaching middle age. As usual, the affable Texan fills his songs with hard-bitten characters looking for relief from their dour days. KMAG YOYO begins with a couple working-class anthems (“Stomp and Holler” and “Hard Out Here”). On the former, Carll grumbles over a squalling guitar lick: “Most folks earn what they get for a livin’, others just steal what they need.” On the latter, he twists his misery into a honky-tonk shuffle, too tired to complain about the inequity of it all.
Still, nothing can spoil his smart-aleck nature. This is, after all, the man who released “She Left Me for Jesus,” a risque, sacrilegious hoot that became his biggest hit in 2008. The song sprung from a career peak, Trouble in Mind, where Carll wrapped his twisted sense of humor around a favorite subject—the splintered lives of sad-sack loners. Three years have passed since that breakthrough, and his wit and clever wordplay haven’t suffered during the hiatus. The crack band Carll has assembled, led by utility man Scott Davis, deftly handles folk, rock and country and shifts easily between these styles.
Not afraid of turning a mirror on himself, the Austin-based troubadour roars through these twelve songs with confidence, his voice booming down the hillbilly highway. “Bottle in My Hand,” an accordian-fueled collaboration with fellow road warriors Corb Lund and Todd Snider, admits the awful pressures of the open road with a wistful sigh. The mood slips from laconic to lonesome on “The Letter” (“I meet some wild people out here, those who are pretendin’ and others more sincere”), with Carll just one bad gig from going off the deep end.
His tender sarcasm is a nice touch. KMAG YOYO becomes Carll’s chance to face an old nemesis—his younger self—and learn from the missteps of his past. He’s emerged with a lighter step and stirs up some warm spirit on “Grateful for Christmas,” a wry recollection of his family’s holiday traditions. A husband and father himself, Carll shedsthe last vestiges of his youth with “Hide Me.” As the gospel harmony swells behind him, he says farewell to his old friend the blues: “Well, the time has come at last/To rest my heart and ease my past.”