Relatively new to Mr. Hayes Carll, I was lucky enough to see him perform on New Year’s Eve: WOW! He certainly didn’t disappoint. The show was great, and I was equally thrilled when his latest album, KMAG YOYO was released. While many of the songs will be familiar to Carl fans, some of them seem like a bit of a departure. The album is one that will be playing over and over in your car, but it has a few bumps along the way, and it seems to be missing an identity. Perhaps that’s what Hayes intended, but the result is somewhat jarring at times.
“Hard Out Here” is a tongue-in-cheek lament of the challenges of being a road musician, and Hayes laid back, sarcastic drawl suits it perfectly. As with some of his earlier work, it’s sometimes difficult to know when to take this guy seriously, be outraged, and when to just laugh. I doubt this was an accident, and the satire is even more evident as the album goes on. In the light hearted, hilarious “Another Like You” the music is simple and bops right along with this drunkard’s tale of star (or politics) crossed lovers. “I overheard Afghanistan is safer than a minivan”: how’s that for a line? There are several such zingers in the song, and if you don’t laugh at Cary Ann Hearst’s final line, then please, put the album down and go listen to some canned country. I personally love “Chances Are”, which is a retro throwbackto classic country, it’s haunting guitar twang evoking Willie and Waylon and everything that’s right with the world. The lyrics are layered and have multiple meanings, so what you hear on the first listen is very different from what you hear on the tenth. Another ballad, “Hide Me” should at least make you consider crying. The song is plaintive and spare, gorgeous and tender, just perfect. Mr. Carll does a great job of keeping what could have been just another lonesome song true and straightforward.
The rest of the album stretches from rowdy and fun to forgettable; a few songs seem almost Nashville-ready, which may surprise some fans. The album’s title track, which is military lingo for “Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re On Your Own,” is immediately recognizable as an homage to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but from the perspective of a reluctant soldier rather than a displaced civilian. The guitar riffs are both hippie punk and twangy, no mean feat. Go ahead, play it over and over till you get all the words down. That’s the idea.
In fact, the album has been on almost constant repeat since I got it, and I have no plans to shelve it anytime soon. I love the songs. What I keep coming back to, though, is that the songs just don’t seem to go together. It almost seems like songs were picked out of a hat and just thrown on the album. Individually, they are sometimes spectacular, sometimes merely sturdy, but definitely worth listening to. The album doesn’t seem to gel into a cohesive “theme”, however, which left me feeling a little disjointed. I rarely play the songs in the order they were intended, instead trying to hear what seems like it should come next. Still, the songwriting is true and touching. Hayes is a poet, not just a “drunk with a pen” and KMAG- YOYO won’t disappoint.