Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard is alive and well, so there's no need to seek his replacement. If there were, though, fellow Texan Hayes Carll would do a fine job. In fact, Carll's Lost Highway debut opens with a song he co-wrote with Hubbard. "Drunken Poet's Dream" is rootsy and wry, with a tangle of fiddle and growling electric guitar encircling vivid lyrics about a woman who "likes to lay naked and be gazed upon."
It sets the tone for "Trouble in Mind," a collection of rollicking country-rock tunes that build upon the Texas songwriting tradition of aw-shucks philosophy laced with subversive undertones. Carll sings waggish odes to drinking, broken hearts and the glories of the barroom music circuit, with a potent mix of deadpan self-deprecation and stinging pathos. "Good Lord, I hope I get paid tonight," he cracks in an easy, tuneful drawl on "I Got a Gig," banjo plunking along behind him. He offers a straight take on road weariness on the slow and sorrowful "Don't Let Me Fall," and comes at the same topic from a different direction on "Knockin' Over Whiskey."
Like a true showman, Carll saves the best for last, ending with the hilariously wrongheaded complaint "She Left Me for Jesus," promising, with tongue in cheek, fierce payback should he ever take his ex-girlfriend's advice and find the Lord.
Essential download: "She Left Me for Jesus"