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“My earliest inspirations,” he concedes, “came from those guys: Townes, Guy, Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristoffersonand Ray Wylie Hubbard. Kristofferson was revolutionary in bringing intelligence and humor to country songwriting—John Prine too, though he’s not from Texas. “I played with all the ways you can use that phrase.That Texas songwriting is all around you if you grow up here. Because you can go in a million different directions with a song, there’s something to be said for having boundaries to work within.Instead he presents the listener—as he does on all the album’s songs—the unsatisfying reality that life is a package deal, a series of tradeoffs, and leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions.It’s that approach that has made these songs the most substantial of his career.The days when Steely Dancould stay home and just make records, confident they would sell enough to provide a good income, belong to another century.Unless you’re in the pop-music one-percent, records rarely yield a substantial profit these days, so you have to hit the road.It’s a more thoughtful collection—with the choruses more likely to contain epiphanies than punchlines.Into the spaces where the stomping and joking once were comes a sobering awareness of the losses that shadow every life.
Everyone expected a follow-up album of similarly witty, bouncy numbers within a year or a two.The title for “Sake of the Song” inevitably brings to mind the classic Townes Van Zandt composition “For the Sake of the Song.” Another of Carll’s new songs, “Good While It Lasted,” contains a line that echoes both the wording and melody of the title line from Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” Neither of these were deliberate tributes, Carll insists; they both bubbled up from his unconscious. For a teenaged kid into Bob Dylanand Jack Kerouac, it didn’t have the things my heroes were writing about.” He was nominated for writing “Chances Are,” which first appeared on KMAG YOYO, but was later covered by the great East Texas country singer Lee Ann Womack.But once they did, he kept them in the songs, because he does feel a part of the long chain of Texas singer/songwriters. You need to sit down and be a folk singer.’ And yet I persevered against the odds and here I am with a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song of the Year.” “That story about my mom is totally true,” Carll confirms at Threadgill’s. Carll was writing songs for the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrowmovie, Country Strong, when the music supervisor suggested that he write a song with the title “Chances Are.” “It was a fun exercise for me,” he says.After a while you begin to feel homeless and adrift.You look around, and all your friends have lives and families.