Written by Matt Matthews
Dec 30, 2011 at 8:00 PM
ImageWalking into the House Of Blues in Downtown Houston, I was treated to a surprise which happens rarely in this line of work.  After all, when you have spent the last 15 years or better in and out of dancehalls, honky tonks, theaters and concert halls soaking up as much live music as the Greater Houston metro area can serve up, there is a tendency to become complacent in attitude if not expectation.  However, on this night before we the people were to ring in 2012, as my attention was directed to the stage, my complacency was replaced with anticipation once I realized that the headliner I came to see, Hayes Carll, was being preceded by another Houston area rising star, Robert Ellis.

Robert Ellis and the Boys, ever since I first saw them two years ago in a small diner in Conroe, Tx, always give me something to digest aurally that is rarely served in any Houston area venue.  Variety.  These guys stand firmly on well crafted songs that redefine the Americana genre.  Opening with “Westbound Train” and “Coming Home”, Ellis is reminiscent of early Cosmic Cowboy works by Michael Murphy.  Showing that he can easily bring forth the type of satirical wit to which a Hayes Carll crowd has become accustomed, Ellis then offered up the light hearted “What’s In It For Me” and “Two Cans Of Paint”.

ImageEllis maintained a refreshing pace and ended the set with the classic bluegrass song “Ruby” which stomped and swirled into a rendition that felt like Jimmy Page and Slim Whitman had decided to form a band.  With the opening act, Shovels and Rope, already resting in the wings, Robert Ellis and the Boys made an easy transition into the night’s headliner.

How much more can anyone say about Hayes Carll at this point?  Crafty arrangements and satirical lyrics filtered through a sardonic wit that has even Ray Wylie Hubbard asking the question, “How can someone this young be so bitter?”

Playing before a near capacity crowd, Hayes Carll and The Gulf Coast Orchestra rolled through nearly 90 minutes of recognizable Carll tunes like the title cuts from “Trouble In Mind” and “KMAG YOYO”.  Along with the familiar “Beaumont”, “Little Rock” and the current Americana charting single, “Stomp & Hollar”, Hayes and the Orchestra treated the House to a new song to be released on a forth-coming album titled “1 Bed, 2 Girls and 3 Bottles of Wine”.  A song about the daunting task of being over served, oversexed and just a bit overcrowded.  One of the night’s highlights was when Hayes asked Shovels and Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst to join him onstage for the “opposites attract in ironic ways” duet, “Another Like You”.

With Hayes Carll’s awards and critical acclaim continuing to mount and no sign of the lyrical skewering he uses to filter his world view slowing down, we will no doubt continue to see his star rise beyond the fringe of Americana and well into the rare air breathed by nationally recognized songwriters.  There is always a sharp, scathing edge to the music with which Carll seeks to cut.  Luckily, we hardly notice it’s directed at us.  As we slowly bleed out.  Applauding.