Hayes Carll

Flowers and Liquor

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    8
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In this extraordinary debut, Houston's Hayes Carll plants himself square in the tradition of Texas barroom balladeers, and pretty close to their front ranks at that. He sings in a dusty whine, delivering lyrics that recall those of Townes Van Zandt in their slouching, unforced artfulness. His writing conjures broad and weary vistas and holds up as well under close scrutiny; the opening line to "Heaven Above," "six pack of somethin'," boils a song's worth of ennui into one tiny package and brilliantly sets the stage for all that follows. Carll's band complements this raggedy eloquence with an emphasis on acoustic textures (except for the milky electric tremolo on "Lost and Lonely") and ample use of twin slide guitar or a slide/Dobro combination. But Carll also shines on solo tracks such as "Arkansas Blues," on which his vocals fill the space left by the absent band with a nuanced expressiveness that rivals that of the early Dylan. Above all, there's not a whiff of affectation in this music: From the laconic yodel at the end of "Live Free or Die" to the sly seductiveness of "Naked Checkers" and the title track, Flowers and Liquor is the real thing, done about as well as it can be done.

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