I’ve always liked Hayes Carll, but now, with his sixth album, I think I’m starting to love him.
Produced by the greatest songwriter of the past five years, Jason Isbell, and supported by Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit, Carll’s “What It Is” offers sardonic alt-country that moves through all the styles of the genre. The purposeful irony of the days-gone-by song “Times Like These” being the most traditional song on the record is as delicious as the woke ballad “Fragile Men,” which has a distinctly modern feel.
Every song on the album is amazing. “Things You Don’t Wanna Know” is a personal favorite, imploring his girlfriend to stop asking about his drinking, etc., because she’s not going to do anything about it anyway. The line “some men give their damndest when half a damn will do” from “If I May Be So Bold” is just one of many terrific one-liners on the album.
What It Is feels wise and appropriately cynical, but also genuinely funny (“Wild Pointy Finger”) and touching–I never thought a song called “Jesus and Elvis” would make me feel something. Isbell’s influence is all over the honesty of this album, and probably is what pushes it from good to great.