Behold a most uncommon pleasure: Romantic poetry cresting a wave of rapid-fire rock ’n’ roll. “I’ve got a girl out in Henrietta, and her love is like tornado weather,” Hayes Carll sings on the swelling cautionary tale “A Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” “It’s girls like this that keep me tryin’, she goes off like an air raid siren. Come in clean, leave torn apart, a bad liver and a broken heart.” Picture John Keats wearing faded jeans and a six-string.
Carll carries that epic burden with a familiar everyman’s grace throughout this major-label debut. In fact, “Trouble in Mind” — a ceaseless thrum of polished portraits and priceless punch lines — sketches a peerless blueprint of songwriting as unpretentious modern art. Heart-sore novellas “Beaumont” and “Knockin’ Over Whiskeys” double down on that claim. “Faulkner Street,” on the other hand, simply ties on dancing shoes and amplifies Carll’s mission statement to the unrepentant ragged and unwashed: “Living for the best, leaving all the rest behind.”
The Woodlands native certainly has plenty of cheeky fun here, too. “Wild as a Turkey,” for one, detonates as much wiseacre bravado as his unrecorded fan favorite “Ain’t Enough of Me to Go Around.” “Well, I’m wild as a turkey, higher than a Christmas moon, empty as my wallet on a Sunday afternoon,” Carll hiccups on the unapologetic twister. “I come around too fast, and I always leave too soon. Ain’t that what they always say?”
Pay particular attention to the bookend proclamations “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “She Left Me for Jesus.” Braced equally by rapture and risk, the wobbly powder kegs spotlight Carll’s complex secular and spiritual symmetry. Few songwriters — “You be the sinner, honey, I’ll be the sin,” he coaxes on the former — dare draw tighter lines. Fewer still darken them with razor wit.
Recommended tracks: “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” “A Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” “Knockin’ Over Whiskeys”