Alone Together: Hayes Carll Solo with Opener Carolina Story GOLDENCIRLE + MEET & GREET - 8/21/20Friday, August 21 2020 6:00pm Doors / 8:00pm Start
Alone Together: Hayes Carll Solo with Opener Carolina Story GOLDENCIRLE + MEET & GREET - 8/21/20
at City Winery Nashville
- Early entry into the venue
- Intimate Q&A with Hayes Carll
- Exclusive preshow performance
- Group & personal photograph with Hayes Carll
- Official meet & greet laminate
- Limited availability
The chorus to the title track on the new Hayes Carll album, What It Is, is a manifesto.
What it was is gone forever / What it could be God only knows.
What it is is right here in front of me / and I’m not letting go.
He’s embracing the moment. Leaving the past where it belongs, accepting there’s no way to know what’s ahead, and challenging himself to be present in both love and life. It’s heady stuff. It also rocks.
With a career full of critical acclaim and popular success, Carll could’ve played it safe on this, his sixth record, but he didn’t. The result is a musically ambitious and lyrically deep statement of an artist in his creative prime.
Hayes Carll’s list of accomplishments is long. His third album, 2008’s Trouble In Mind, earned him an Americana Music Association Award for Song of the Year (for “She Left Me for Jesus”). The follow-up, KMAG YOYO was the most played album on the Americana Chart in 2011 and spawned covers by artists as varied as Hard Working Americans and Lee Ann Womack, whose version of "Chances Are" garnered Carll a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. 2016’s Lovers and Leavers swept the Austin Music Awards, and was his fourth record in a row to reach #1 on the Americana Airplay chart. Kelly Willis and Kenny Chesney have chosen to record his songs and his television appearances include The Tonight Show, Austin City Limits, and Later w/Jools Holland. Carll is the rare artist who can rock a packed dancehall one night and hold a listening room at rapt attention the next.
“Repeating myself creatively would ultimately leave me empty. Covering new ground, exploring, and taking chances gives me juice and keeps me interested.”
He knew he wanted to find the next level. On What It Is, he clearly has.
It wasn’t necessarily easy to get there. Carll’s last release, 2016’s Lovers and Leavers was an artistic and commercial risk — a bold move which eschewed the tempo and humor of much of his previous work. The record revealed a more serious singer-songwriter dealing with more serious subjects — divorce, new love in the middle of life, parenting, the worth of work. What It Is finds him now on the other side, revived and happy, but resolute — no longer under the impression that any of it comes for free.
“I want to dig in so this life doesn’t just pass me by. The more engaged I am the more meaning it all has. I want that to be reflected in the work.”
And meaning there is. Carll sings “but I try because I want to,” on the album’s opening track, “None’Ya.” He’s not looking back lamenting love lost, rather, finding joy and purpose in the one he’s got and hanging on to the woman who sometimes leaves him delightedly scratching his head. “If I May Be So Bold,” finds him standing on similar ground
— lyrically taking on the challenge of participating fully in life rather than discontentedly letting life happen.
Bold enough to not surrender bold enough to give a damn
Bold enough to keep on going or to stay right where I am
There’s a whole world out there waiting full of stories to be told
I’ll heed the call and tell’em all if I may be so bold
There’s no wishy washy here and he’s not on the sidelines. In fact, he’s neck-deep in life. On the rambunctious, fiddle-punctuated, “Times Like These,” he laments political division in America while delivering a rapid-fire plea to “do my labor, love my girl, and help my neighbor, while keeping all my joie de vivre.” Carll’s signature cleverness and aptitude for so-personal-you-might-miss-it political commentary is as strong as ever. The stark, “Fragile Men,” co-written with singer-songwriter Lolo, uses humor and dripping sarcasm to examine his gender’s resistance to change in less than three minutes of string-laden, almost Jacques Brel invoking drama. It’s new musical territory for Carll, and the result is powerful. His voice is strong and resonant on these songs, and it’s thrilling to hear him use it with a new authority. He is alternately commanding and tender, yet always soulful.
Carll returned to trusted producer Brad Jones (producer of 2008’s Trouble in Mind and 2011’s KMAG YOYO) and Alex the Great Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, to record What It Is, and recruited singer-songwriter, author, and fiancee Allison Moorer as co-producer. The production is adventurous while keeping the focus on the singer and his songs and providing a path for him to go where he wants to go. Where that is, is forward.
That’s evident in the songwriting. Carll continues to hone his singular voice, but is also a flexible co-writer. Matraca Berg, Charlie Mars, Adam Landry, and Moorer have co-writing credits here, but it was Moorer’s inspiration that provided the largest impact.
“On the songwriting front she’s just a pro. She helps me cut through the noise and she does it with wit and style.”
Carll’s own wit and style has never been more evident. Whether it’s with the put-you-in-picture detail of, “Beautiful Thing,” the not quite sheepish enough, dude-esque defense of dishonesty in, “Things You Don’t Wanna Know,” or the strong as a tree trunk declaration of love on, “I Will Stay,” he displays an increasing command of his poetic lexicon.
Writers most often wrestle with experience and expectations, either romanticizing the past or telling us how good it’s going to be when they get where they’re going. What It Is is a record that is rooted solidly in the present, revealing an artist in the emotional and intellectual here and now.
Carolina Story never said no to a gig. A bar, a church, a theater, a nursing home: the duo––made up of husband and wife Ben and Emily Roberts––crisscrossed the country for a decade, building a sprawling grassroots fanbase enamored with the pair’s smart, self-penned, harmony-laden Americana. Today, their new album Lay Your Head Down is a highly anticipated full-length debut on Black River. They’ve graced the Grand Ole Opry stage many times, won over critics, and inked a record deal.
Today, life is Ben and Emily’s shared dream come true. But getting here wasn’t easy.
Early on, tired and hungry, Carolina Story almost walked away. The two were living with Ben’s parents in Kingston Springs, outside of Nashville. “We’d just gotten off the road, and I was thinking, ‘Let’s just give up,’” Emily remembers. “I thought he’d be the positive one, but Ben said, ‘No, I agree.’” They went to the grocery store, defeated and lost. That’s when a woman approached them to tell them she’d seen them in a coffee shop in town and loved their music.
“She was very kind, but even though we heard it as a compliment, we were thinking, ‘This woman has no idea we’ve written our last song,’” Ben says, then laughs.
“We started to go down the next aisle,” Emily chimes in. “Then, she grabbed our attention once more and said, ‘Hey, I just really feel like I’m supposed to tell you guys to never give up.’ Well, that sent chills up our spines.” Emily pauses, reliving the moment.
“She had no idea,” Ben says. “She didn’t know us from Adam.”
Carolina Story didn’t give up. And 10 years to the day after Ben first spied Emily on campus in Memphis, the couple walked into Sound Stage Studios to record Lay Your Head Down, a mature, 12-song masterpiece that captures two people’s moving, relatable journey from childhood to parenthood, independence to partnership, and despondency to hope. “I feel like there have always been signs for us that keep us going,” Emily says. “And I love that we have each other.”
Ben grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He picked up a guitar, started writing, and joined a band in junior high, but he had some detours to make before pursuing music full time. A gifted athlete, Ben played football for a year at a small college outside of Boston, before transferring to a school in North Carolina, then Memphis. Raised in the small farming community of Lennox, South Dakota, Emily always knew all she wanted to do was sing. She made her way to Memphis, where she began writing her own songs and remained determined to end up in Nashville.
The two had been dating for about three months when they took a trip to North Carolina. Ben had served as a white-water rafting guide there and wanted to show Emily the country he loved. There, sitting around a campfire, they wrote their first song together. “It was then we decided, let’s start a band together instead of doing it separately,” Emily says. They agreed.
Driving back to Memphis, the two began to make plans. Then Emily––the cautious, deliberate one of the pair–– threw a curve ball.
“On the way home, we were excited about starting a band,” Ben says. Then out of nowhere, Emily started talking about baby names,” Ben laughed. “Almost scared me off!”
“Emily said, ‘Carolina Story’ would be a beautiful name for a little girl...’”
“He always leaves out the part about him telling his mother he was going to marry me before I was even interested in him!” Emily interrupts, laughing.
Ben replied, “‘It’d be an even better name for a band.’” And Carolina Story was born. Today, years later, living in their East Nashville home, Ben and Emily also have two children: three-year-old Wilder and baby Lily. “We’ve always considered Carolina Story our first born,” Emily added.
Produced by Nick Autry and recorded in Nashville at Sound Stage Studios, Lay Your Head Down is a stunning portrait of lovers and friends. Carolina Story penned every song. The title track opens the album. Lush strings and winsome harmonica cushion the song’s lyrics that convey yearning and hurt. “I wrote that song sitting by the Cumberland River, not far from our house, when I was in a bad way,” Ben says. “Spring time came with a vengeance this year / the river rose high / the water ain’t clear,” Ben sings initially on his own, introducing the telling imagery that fills every Carolina Story song. In the verses, the two plead to a higher power for a break from overwhelming pain. The chorus is the divine, comforting response. “There is a lot of life in these 12 songs. It’s the story of our life together,” Ben says.
Jaunty but wise, the melody and message of “Gold” follow. Over classic harmonica and thick electric guitar, the pair point out that the high pressure created by tough times actually creates something incomparably precious. With Ben and Emily’s gorgeous vocals far out front, “We Were Young Once Too” bemoans the way innocence falls away even as it appreciates the wisdom age brings.
Carolina Story songs often explore feeling comfortable with truths that seem at odds with one another. Stripped down and vulnerable with the couple’s voices over plaintive acoustic guitar and haunting background instrumentation, “Set in Stone” explores the secrets that lurk in every relationship, even as deep love is honestly claimed and professed. “There is a realness people can hear,” Ben says. “You can hear it and think, ‘It’s going to be alright. Just keep going towards the light and it’ll work, even when that light is just a little pinhole in the tarp.”
“We don’t want to be seen as just a married couple, but we are married,” Emily says. “That maturity––that relationship––is in our songs. As long as we’ve been married, we’ve been Carolina Story, so there is a lot of relationship growth and artistic growth here. That’s what I love about this record.”
Ben’s favorite song on the album, “My Feet Keep Moving Still,” is also the oldest. Tender and sad, the song captures the frustration of feeling stuck, but carrying on anyway. Nostalgic “When I Was Just a Boy” tips a hat to the nuggets of truth parents impart. “Your Children’s Children” immortalizes the couple’s own advice to their own babies. Beautiful “Lonely without You” encapsulates passion and longing, while timeless “Rich Man” unpacks the choice between material comforts and love.
Album closer “Let Me Rock, Let Me Roll” is a standout. One of the songs closest to Emily’s heart, the track reiterates commitment to one another and to the music. “It sums up all those years,” Ben says. “At the end of the day, the best part is singing songs with you. That’s it.”
Looking back on how far they’ve come, Carolina Story is awestruck, emboldened, and grateful. “Just when you think the gig’s up and it’s all changing––that all your hopes and dreams of doing what’s inside you are gone, as they say, the only one that matters is the last card you turn over,” Ben says. “You just keep going.”