Hayes Carll charmed the crowd last night at Austin City Limits with a strong set featuring songs from his critically acclaimed new album Lovers and Leavers. The leading candidate for inheritor of the Texas singer-songwriter tradition, Carll last graced the Austin City Limits stage in 2010. Since that time he earned a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Country Song and walked away with top honors at multiple Americana Music Awards.
Carll took the stage joined by steel guitarist Geoff Queen and drummer Mike Meadows on a treated drum kit for the sardonic “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” from his 2008 breakthrough Trouble in Mind. He stayed with the trio format for the “you and me, baby” love song “Love is So Easy,” a cut from the new record which really got the crowd going. He dedicated the self-explanatory “Sake of the Song” to the “lion of the songwriting world,” the late, great Guy Clark, about whom he told an amusing story concerning an attempt at co-writing. Carll returned to the subject of Lovers and Leavers for “Good While It Lasted,” as good a song about the dissolution of a relationship as any written in the past decade. The unrecorded, melancholy “Jesus and Elvis” had a local flavor, as it was inspired by the owner of the Austin bar Lala’s. He then returned to Trouble for the jaunty, good-humored “Girl Downtown,” a clear audience favorite. Carll closed the trio set with the gentle “The Magic Kid,” dedicated to his twelve-year-old son Eli who is indeed a magician.
Queen and Meadows left the stage for Carll to play “Beaumont,” another audience fave, by himself. He talked about how ACL inspired him as an aspiring songwriter as the musicians returned with bassist John Michael Schoepf and pianist Emily Gimble (last seen on our stage with Asleep at the Wheel). Gimble joined the bandleader in a duet on the country ballad “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” another tune from the latest record. Mood and tempo rose sharply on the roadhouse country of “The Lovin’ Cup,” highlighted by Queen and Gimble trading solos. Carll and co. followed with “The Love That We Need,” a catchy bit of folk rock philosophy that asserted “We got the life that we wanted, not the love that we need.” Carll and Queen picked up electric guitars for “KMAG YOYO” (“Kiss my ass, guys, you’re on your own”), a frisky country rocker that tells a fanciful tale of a young man’s tour of duty in Afghanistan gone awry. “This song has a lot of words,” he noted when he fumbled some of the lyrics, bringing the song to a premature close. Two tries later, he laughingly gave up, promising to return to the song after playing something else. That turned out to be the salutatory waltz “My Friends,” followed by the lovely “Long Way Home,” a tribute to one of those friends, since passed on. Carll closed the main set with “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” an old favorite from his second LP Little Rock.
The band came back for a well-deserved encore and, as promised, tried again with “KMAG YOYO.” After reciting the vexing lyric he kept stumbling over earlier, Carll romped through the song like he’d never forgotten it, to the cheers of the audience. He kept the vibe going by with the equally rough ‘n’ ready “Stomp and Holler,” bring the show to a rollicking close. It was a great way to close an excellent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.