Hayes Carllwith Corin Raymond at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Tuesday (May 23), 8:30 pm. $17, advance $15. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN
Like just about every upstart Texas twanger with a hoarse growl and a wise-ass sense of humour, Hayes Carll has had his share of "the new Steve Earle" proclamations, however dubious that distinction may now seem. Calling his first album Flowers And Liquor didn't help.
"Steve Earle's definitely someone I admire, so I'm certainly flattered by the comparisons," says Carll from a highway stop outside of Gainesville, Florida. "But his stuff wasn't really a formative influence on what I do, the way the music of Townes Van Zandt and some other country singers was.
"It's really only been in the last three or four years that I've been listening more to Steve's songs and he's moved up near the top of the heap, but my style was pretty well set in place by then. Of course, the comparisons could have something to do with the way I sometimes yell my songs, rather than any specific songwriting or stylistic strategies."
The new batch of tunes Carll wrote with Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard for his Little Rock album were set to leave all that Steve Earle baggage behind. That is, until his producer, RS Field, got the idea of beefing up his sound with a tough-rockin' band and Carll decided to release the resulting Little Rock album on his own independent label, Highway 87 Music.
Even before the disc hit the street, the Steve Earle comparisons that have dogged him were on their way back with a vengeance.
"I didn't really set out to make this album more of a rock record. The idea was to do something a bit looser, with more of the energy of my performances than on my first record, which was more of a straight singer/songwriter deal. Bringing in some more musicians seemed like the next logical step for me.
"Because I've been playing solo for most of my life, it took me a while to get my head around the band sound. I wasn't sure what to make of the whole production at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I've come around to liking it."
That could've been the end of the whole Steve Earle thing right there, if only Carll had brought in someone - anyone - other than Allison Moorer to sing the harmony parts. Don't get me wrong, Moorer's a fine singer and her voice blends beautifully with Carll's throughout, yet it might have been wise to bring in a vocalist who wasn't Steve Earle's plus-one.
Evidently it was just a coincidence that Moorer hooked up with Earle after the Little Rock sessions.
"Allison was a good friend of my former publicist, and every Monday night we'd go to this bar called Sherlock's where Allison would be holding court with her ex-husband Butch (Doyle "Butch" Primm), and we'd all hang out and drink beer.
"When it came time to record some harmony vocals, the guys I was working with weren't working out, so I thought I'd just ask Allison since I'd be seeing her at Sherlock's that night. She came in and knocked out all her parts in a day. She's a great singer."
It appears that working independently was not something Carll picked up from Earle, but rather from Carll's DIY touring mate Fred Eaglesmith, who's also had an influence on Carll's dining habits.
"Every Canadian musician I ever toured with is obsessed with Tim Hortons and needs to make a pit stop every time we come across one on the road.
"I kinda resisted the pull of Tim Hortons for a long time, but I finally had to give in on this trip. I'm not a big donut guy and I rarely drink coffee but they've got these really tasty soup and sandwich combos that make for a good lunch or a nice light dinner."