Storytelling is the cornerstone of great country music.
The Ram’s Head On Stage played host to one of Americana’s finest storytellers on May 14 as Texas troubadour Hayes Carll treated a nearly sold-out Annapolis crowd to an almost 20-song set featuring songs about love, loss, family, hitting the road, and a soldier who sells drugs to Taliban members and later gets abducted by aliens. Typical stuff.
Carll and his band kicked off the show with two songs off his last album, 2011’s KMAG YOYO (& other American stories); the reflective “Bye Bye Baby” and the slice of life on the road “Bottle in my Hand,” which he co-wrote with Corb Lund and Todd Snider (two fine storytellers in their own right). He would later play another traveling song co-written by Lund, about what he called “the best protection a traveling musician can have,” “Bible on the Dash,” which appeared on Lund’s 2012 Cabin Fever album.
The stories were flowing from Carll all night, whether it be in his well-crafted songs, or his often hilarious tales surrounding their inspiration. While introducing the first song he ever wrote “Arkansas Blues” he discussed the unwise decision of going to college in a dry town and how hard it was to get noticed as a musician in a town with no venues to play. Even once they eventually found a venue, the next hurdle was getting attention from the ladies, which according to Carll, all depended on who played the best cover of Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight that particular evening.
Carll tried out a pair of new songs, both about fatherhood. One funny, “My Baby Took My Baby From Me,” the other sweet, “The Magic Kid,” to make up for the other one as he put it. “My Baby” co-written by Bobby Bare Jr., had a cool Paul Westerberg vibe to it and the crowd couldn’t help but chuckle at the protagonist’s woes of trying to steal back some attention from his woman who now only dotes on their child.
One of the finer moments in the performance was “KMAGYOYO” (it’s a military acronym…look it up) which tells the tale of a soldier who sold heroin to members of the Taliban, was wounded by an IED, and was abducted by aliens. The song featured a raging dobro guitar part that added to an already trippy song. It’s definitely the kind of song you can imagine Steve Earle dreaming about. Later, the show’s opener Caroline Rose (who was fantastic by the way) joined the stage to sing another song I’m sure Earle would appreciate, “Another Like You,” which finds a new couple realizing that their politics are WAY different.
Closing out the set, the band played one of my personal favorites “Drunken Poet’s Dream” before taking the shortest of breaks and returning with “Hide Me,” “Girl Downtown” and the rollicking “Stomp and Holler.”
Hayes Carll is not the flashiest musician out there. He doesn’t have to be. He lets his songs and stories do the talking, all the while proving that you don’t have to throw a party on stage for a crowd to have a good time. Toward the end of the night, he showed his genuineness when he humbly told the crowd, “I say this every night. I’d do this every night if people showed up or not, but I appreciate you showing up.” No Hayes, we appreciate you showing up.