With the city’s politicos deadlocked in debt-ceiling negotiations over the weekend, Hayes Carll proposed a solution to end all ideological wrangling: “a whole lotta alcohol.”
Detente by way of daiquiri may not be a possibility for the suits on Capitol Hill, but spinning tales of dissolution and depression — and doing so with an unfailing sense of humor — has become a winning formula for Carll, a tall, unassuming, bearded Texan singer-songwriter who emerged from the maverick-country underground three years ago.
Appearing at a so-sold-out-you-couldn’t-move Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night, Carll sang in a cracked baritone over classic country-western rhythms you’ve heard a thousand times before.
Yet one is hard-pressed to dismiss his appeal.
Not insignificantly, Carll can turn a hilarious phrase, often at his own expense. “Everybody’s talking ’bout the shape I’m in / They say, ‘Boy, you ain’t a poet, just a drunk with a pen,’ ” he sang on “Hard Out Here,” a faux-plea for sympathy for road-weary musicians.
Carll’s work ethic and shambling amiability have allowed him room to put over songs such as the bold “KMAG YOYO.” In an over-caffeinated vocal style, Carll imagines the seedy underside of foreign occupation:
“Here I am standing in the desert with a gun / Thought of going AWOL, but I’m too afraid to run / So I got myself a new plan, stealing from the Taliban / Make a little money turning poppies into heroin.”
Carll took several turns accompanying himself solo on acoustic guitar, but on songs such as the Stonesy rocker “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” and the swamp-blues “I Got a Gig,” he eased into the background to spotlight his band, which included the able-bodied Scott Davis on lead guitar, lap-steel and accordion.
Comparisons to Texan giants such as Townes Van Zandt, Doug Sahm and Guy Clark have proved inevitable, but Carll wears the legacy lightly.
At times, as on the revelatory cover of Tom Waits’s “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” the giants were standing on Carll’s shoulders.