Hayes Carll Lovers and Leavers

Hayes Carll Lovers and Leavers
5
Arriving almost six years after his breakthrough KMAG YOYO and its terrific blend of humour, insight and heartache, this melancholy set from one of Americana's most revered singer-songwriters can't help but feel like a curveball.
 
Gone is much of the caustic wit and almost all of the drunken drawling energy that drove that record. Here, stripped down to barely-there arrangements of minimalist percussion, bass and infrequent piano by producer Joe Henry, a scratchy-voiced Carll is left alone at the microphone with his acoustic guitar. The idea was surely to present this singular songwriter's most intimate record in its rawest form. It should work, but it doesn't.
 
The problem isn't just that the result feels more like a collection of demos than a complete record; it's that the songs themselves are generally uninspired, and often feel unfinished despite being co-written, almost all of them, with top-notch songwriters. As a result, occasional allusions to Gillian Welch, Robert Frost and Townes Van Zandt come across as unfortunate reminders of more interesting writing.
 
Though there are some tremendous moments here and there — the opening stanza of "You Leave Alone" is a master class in storytelling, and album opener "Drive" works on every level — too many of these tales feel like you've heard them told before by someone who understood them a bit better. (Sony Music)