Album review: Lovers and Leavers by Hayes Carll

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The fifth album from Texan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll is a rumination on the subjects of its title: lovers and leavers. Three of the songs have ‘love’ in the title; the ‘leavers’ can be found in ‘You Leave Alone’, Good While it Lasted’ and ‘Drive’.
Carll sings in a style that could be called ‘whiskey-soaked’, except that implies a certain level of sloppiness and these songs aren’t sloppy. So perhaps a better description is to say that his singing style is cracked, in the way Ryan Bingham’s is, and slow, in the vein of country music artists who are quite a bit older than him. It’s the latter quality – the languidness that comes with not hurrying through a song, the sense that the singer is sure enough of who he is that he can take his time telling you – that is the best indicator of Carll’s long experience. His lyrics, too, suggest a man who has spent quite a lot of time thinking about how life works, and how it doesn’t. There’s an element of the frontiersman in these songs – there’s space in these songs that suggests open plains and big skies, but also space for the listener to lay in their own interpretations, experiences and emotions.
For those who like to be strict about their country music classifications, this is an American country music album. There’s a way that steel guitars get played on American albums that can often be different to what turns up on Australian albums, no doubt because the lyrical content is different and the music complements the words. But Carll is a storyteller the way so many Australian country music artists are, so he doesn’t sound so unfamiliar. This album has the ability to break hearts by stealth – listen closely to the lyrics and it’s there, even if Carll doesn’t sound miserable while he’s singing. The heartbreak is in those aforementioned spaces – make of those what you will. 
Lovers and Leavers is out now through Cooking Vinyl Australia.

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