Tucked down a street off Pittsburgh’s South Side, a little piece of Texas found its way into the lives of this melancholy Mideast town. To the ears of a hundred or so people sitting around under the dark-blue lights of Club Café, the songs of Hayes Carll were as much about their lives as they were about his trials and tribulations back in the Southwestern U.S.
Looking at life through the humble eyes of a singer/songwriter, Carll easily relates his songs to his audience, singing as if they were friends and not admirers. Although his set was only a 45-minute opener for the esteemed Joe Ely, it was concise and perfectly pitched at a low mumble, just above the humming of polite listeners.
Anecdotes and self-deprecating humor immediately brought you closer to Carll. Reflected in his songs were the humanity and humility that comes from earning your wisdom on the grizzly highways of America. From his 2004 self-released Little Rock album he sang “(Glad that I came I just) Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” a simple song about a restless traveler trying to figure where he’s suppose to be in this world: “Shooting stars and whiskey bottles all scattered ’cross the yard / I’d have stayed back home in Houston if I’d known it’d be this hard.”
He gets a giggle from his audience when he tells them “I got in the game a little too late to write songs about Texas so I’ve started writing songs about Arkansas.” It’s canned schtick (he even wrote the banter into his album’s liner notes), but it still comes off genuine.
With a hungry twang and a bluesy beat Carll poignantly captured the transition his move from Arkansas to Texas (also his journey from boy to man) in “Arkansas Blues.” It was here he accented his lyrics with an ear-catching guitar melody that just enough sad-hearted wimper to etch itself into your soul.