Hayes Carll’s reputation as a songwriter rests both on his sharp sense of humour and on his ability to produce touching and tuneful songs. Three years on from his last release Trouble In Mind, the good news is that KMAG YOYO contains a set of songs at least as strong, if not stronger, than its predecessor. It’s a rare achievement that, whatever Carll tries his hand at, from electric stomp to sly humour to lachrymose country ballad, there's never a false move, and he is never less than convincing.
In terms of building career momentum, he seems content to play a long game, for this is his fourth album, with a consistent three-year gap between each. But that time taken shows in the quality of the songs. From the exuberant opening guitar burst of the first song “Stomp And Holler”, playing with a full electric band, you begin to suspect you might be in for something special. If “Stomp And Holler” is atypical Carll, the second song “Hard Out Here”, bemoaning life on the road, is more characteristic. “Chances Are” is a disconsolate ballad, and “Grand Parade” an “isn't it great just to be alive” song, marked out of the ordinary by a captivating sliding melody.
The song “KMAG YOYO” is a paranoia-fuelled narrative with blistering guitar and machine gun lyrics, and offers a handy pointer to Carll's development as a songwriter. In the past when Carll has strayed into Dylanesque territory – with his song “A Lover Like You” – he produced an earnest but somewhat pale Dylan imitation; while this title track owes an equally obvious stylistic debt to Dylan (specifically “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), it is much more assured and convincing.
“Another Like You” is a further, yet totally different, delight. It is very much is the vein of the John Prine song “In Spite Of Ourselves”. Where Prine duetted with Iris DeMent, Carll trades sassy putdowns with Cary Ann Hearst, in a witty tale of ill-matched lovers.
The second half of the album is not quite up to the standard of the opening six songs, but that is not to say that it’s sub-standard – there’s not a poor song on the whole album. “Bottle In My Hand”, for example, a travelling song enlivened by vocal contributions from Corb Lund and Todd Snider, would grace many an album. It’s quite clear on the evidence of this album that Carll is set fair to keep existing fans coming back for more. as well as winning over new converts.