Hayes Carll

Lone star authentic

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By Michael Norman  

Texan Hayes Carll takes a shot at the big-time with Little Rock, his second album -- a smart, authentic collection of Lone Star folk, rock, blues and country. Plenty of Texas singer-songwriters have tried to conjure up the old Hill Country, outlaw magic over the years. But Carll actually sounds like the real thing, putting an original spin on the troubadour style popularized by the likes of Willie Nelson, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Like those legends, Carll writes songs about real life -- breakups, broken dreams, even the chickens running around his front yard -- and delivers them with a blend of dust-bowl wisdom and folksy humor.

Little Rock features at least three certified alt-country classics: the hard-drinking, hard-living lament, "Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long," the tender, lovelorn "Take Me Away" and the dark, desperate confession of faith, "Rivertown," co-written by Guy Clark. The rest of the album is almost just as good. Check out "Down the Road Tonight," a country mouthful inspired by Dylan's "Subterreanean Homesick Blues." Or try "Chickens," a funny, kill-and-grill-it ode to hunger co-written by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Or rock your way through the smoking title track. Any way you look at it, Carll is a new Texas legend in the making.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.