Album Review – Hayes Carll’s “You Get It All”

Hayes Carll came out promising that his seventh record would lean more heavily on the country influences of the native Texan compared to his previous releases. And sure, You Get It All probably is a bit more country-sounding. But more importantly, it’s a good record. In fact it’s a pretty great one. And country or not, it’s a Hayes Carll record. It’s the kind of record you hope Hayes Carll delivers nearly 20 years into his career.

The measurements for “success” for a true songwriter like Hayes Carll don’t fall upon conventional gradients. It’s certainly not pinned to sales, streaming numbers, or chart placements. True songwriters go for the long game. They play for legacy and influence. They want their songs to withstand the test of time. They may not even see their deserved recognition in their lifetimes. That’s the pact they make with the craft, and the faith they have in how a great song will endure.

As acclaimed as Hayes Carll has been in his career—from his emergence with the comparisons with Townes Van Zandt, to now as an Americana mainstay—it’s also been spotty at times. The Hayes Carll of 2011’s KMAG YOYO may have been a bit too much of a caricature of his earlier work. After a five year hiatus, 2016’s Lovers and Leavers might have been a little too understated, with Hayes still trying to find his legs in a post-sobriety world.

But if you don’t think John Prine and Dylan didn’t have soft patches in their careers, you’ve never heard Prine’s Pink Cadillac, but he’s still considered a legend. Again, it’s the long game that’s important for a songwriter. We started seeing signs of the original Hayes Carll balanced with a more mature and cerebral Hayes Carll in 2019’s What It Is. That positive trend continues with You Get It All to where this feels like maybe the definitive work of the 2nd half of his career.

Hayes Carll’s relationship with Allison Moorer—who helped produce this album with Kenny Greenberg—has been a constructive and efficacious development for Hayes. It’s also inspired some great love songs, including the title track of this record.

The album starts out with the hard-pounding Outlaw half time of “Nice Things,” immediately delivering on Carll’s “more country” promise, though the lyricism is decisively Hayes, all sardonic yet introspective. I don’t know if Johnny Paycheck would have recorded a song about the angel of God getting arrested for smoking pot. But he sure sang a lot of songs about getting arrested.

Being country isn’t just about instrumentation. Carll’s duet with Aaron Raitiere starts off with a fiddle, but it’s the country Gospel style of the song and writing that makes it country. Same goes for Carll’s duet with Brandy Clark, with “In The Mean Time” taking advantage of country’s tradition of double-entendres.

The second half of the record is where Hayes really finds his stride. The rockin’ “Keep From Being Found” delivers the best line of the album: “I’ll pay the cost of being lost just to keep from being found.” The aching tension of Carll’s voice in the soulful “The Way I Love You” makes you believe every damn word. And the sweet and open “If It Was Up To Me” might be the best of the set.

At times it still feels like Hayes is writing the kinds of songs he thinks great songwriters write, as opposed to the kinds of songs great songwriters actually write, if that makes sense. “Help Me Remember” has been praised for its insight and compassion into the condition of Alzheimer’s. But like the plot of a network television drama, it’s a little bit too “on the nose” to pull at everyone’s heart strings equally. Hayes really lays down in his Ray Wylie Hubbard grit n’ groove influences on “She’ll Come Back To Me” resulting in a heel stomping good time, but this “opposite day” stuff has been done on quite a few occasions.

We’re being picky though because this is Hayes Carll, and you expect a certain caliber of song from him. If “Help Me Remember” or “She’ll Come Back To Me” populated on country radio, they’d be Song of the Year contenders.

“The Way I Love You” and another good song “Different Boats” from this album are more Memphis than Texas or Nashville. Don’t go in expecting a hard country record from Hayes Carll here, because you’ll be disappointed. But do expect You Get It All to be one good song after another, with a few great ones too, and most everything you want a Hayes Carll album to be, country or not.

8.5/10

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