Personnel: Hayes Carll (vocals, acoustic guitar); Hayes Carll; Adam Landry (guitar); Kenny Vaughn (guitars, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, National guitar); Bucky Baxter (steel guitar, background vocals); George Bradfute, Jared Reynolds (bass instrument); Allison Moorer (vocals); R.S. Field (guitar, drums, percussion); Jimmy Lester (drums).
Recording information: Hum Depot, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Mary Bruton.
Little Rock is only Hayes Carll's second album, but already he sounds like a veteran singer/songwriter. His tales of drifters and searchers, full of sharp observations and biting wit, invite comparisons to Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and Robert Earl Keen, while his talent has brought collaborations with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Guy Clark. For a Texas singer/songwriter, those are big shoes to fill, but the Houston native fills them admirably. Carll has said, with tongue undoubtedly in cheek, that he chose to write about Little Rock because there are already so many songs written about Texas, but the terrific title track ably demonstrates that he has no need for a songwriter inferiority complex. The rip-roaring tune, featuring ace sessionman Kenny Vaughn's down-and-dirty guitar work, has Carll crisscrossing America searching for happiness before deciding to return to Little Rock. His up-tempo, rockier numbers -- like the aforementioned "Little Rock," the colorful front-porch rap "Down the Road Tonight" (that name-checks everyone from the Dali Llama to Michael Jackson), and the rollicking life-of-a-musician tune "Sit in With the Band" -- jump off the disc and immediately grab the listener's attention. But Carll is just as impressive on his quieter, more introspective tunes. "Long Way Home" is a touching ode to a departed friend, while the Earle-esque "Leave Here Standing" essays a relationship come undone. His gifts for observation and humor also are showcased on the vibrantly written opening track, "Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long," and the western-style jazzy tale "Good Friends." The former is a bittersweet journey through his past, while the latter, a duet with Allison Moorer about his old high school buddies, finds Carll pondering, "where did all my good friends go." With just two albums under his belt, Hayes Carll has stepped into the forefront of the Texas troubadour scene. ~ Michael Berick