Hayes Carll: KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)
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If it weren't already apparent that the Texas singer/songwriter archetype had become an established subgenre of country music, a listen to Hayes Carll's fourth album, KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) ought to confirm it. Carll, a 34-year-old Texas native, plays in honky tonk, country-rock, and country-folk styles so familiar that it's often possible to sing older songs to the music he and his band perform, whether it's the Hank Williams-style "Hard Out Here" or the title song (a military acronym for "Kiss My Ass Guys, You're on Your Own"), set to the tune and headlong tempo of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Of course, Carll sings in a wheezy country twang, and his lyrics suggest the barstool wit of an engaging loser. Since he has no interest in doing anything new or different with the musical style, the question is, how well does he function within the tradition of, say, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker? And the answer is, often quite well. "KMAG YOYO" itself is sung in the voice of a contemporary teenage G.I. trying to make his way through the Afghanistan morass any way he can; "Another Like You," a duet with Cary Ann Hearst, finds clever ways to set up an opposites-attract one-night stand; "Bottle in My Hand" hauls in a couple of Carll's peers in Corb Lund and Todd Snider to further investigate honky tonk issues; and "Grateful for Christmas" is an affectionate and amusing spoken word take on a family holiday gathering. These are the album's best songs, but the rest are good, too, and the whole is a worthy addition to the ever-growing catalog of sly Texas country-rock.