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Artist Review: Adam Carroll

By Adam Dawson,


I’ve always felt that there are two types of songwriters that really make an impression on me. The first writes songs that are just brilliantly literary and poetic, almost untouchable in a way. The second are the songwriters that have a way of coming off as one of us, a common guy who writes songs that we all can easily relate to. Occasionally a songwriter finds a way to enter both of these realms at the same time. Sometimes it’s for a song or an album and on very rare occasions they permanently reside there. Adam Carroll belongs to the latter group.


His songs have a way of immediately connecting with the listener and at the same time, being completely beyond anything we could have written ourselves. The characters in his songs live in our neighborhoods but they are so elegantly presented within the song that it makes them seem larger than life.


Once you add in Carroll’s fine guitar and harmonica playing and his off kilter vocal delivery, you have an artist that in my opinion can hold his own in any songwriting circle, no matter how high up the ladder you go. Comparisons to John Prine and Townes Van Zandt seem to come at him from all directions and they are absolutely well deserved for once. I would throw others in the mix as well, Guy Clark, John Hiatt, and the list could go on. Basically think of all the writers that get every word right and go ahead and place Carroll in their midst.


I first heard of Carroll through a couple of Hayes Carll bootlegs, where Carll stated that if he could get away with it he would sing Carroll songs for half of his set and claim that he wrote them. This was a high praise from a songwriter that I respected so I thought I would check out some Carroll’s work. I ended up at a gem of a show, a song swap with Graham Weber. That show sent me on a journey of discovering everything Carroll had to offer and I have yet to be disappointed thus far.


A few years later I got to see him live two nights in a row with Weber here in Ohio. I was not only impressed by the ah shucks stage presence that immediately held the audience’s attention, but that he was as humble and quiet off the stage. It almost felt as he did not have a grasp on just how great his songwriting is.


I have talked with many musicians and fans that have crossed paths with Carroll throughout the years and everyone agrees that he is one of the most immensely talented guys working today and that just being around him is an intriguing, humbling experience. From all accounts there is not a person out there that cares more about his craft than Carroll.


On stage he is engaging and funny, even though he has a tendency to fumble lyrics occasionally. Mark Jungers, another great Texas musician and producer of Carroll’s 2008 album Old Town Rock n Roll, once told me a story about Carroll opening up for him. He said the venue was packed and Adam came out and messed up the first three songs he tried on the audience. After apologizing and making light of the situation Carroll nailed the next tune and was received with a standing ovation. At the end of the night the merchandise table that held Adam’s records was almost completely empty. I thought that was a perfect example of how powerful this guy’s music can be.

Carroll has a pretty full catalog for someone who has only been releasing material for just over a decade. To date he has five studio albums, two live records and a phenomenal release with Michael O’ Connor. Every one of these albums is phenomenal and it is very difficult for me to pick out just three to tell you to start with.


His debut record, 1998’s South of Town, made my list of five great debut records. This is definitely a situation where you can start from the beginning and work forward as Carroll came out of the gates in stride on this release.

His second release came two years later and contains some my favorite Carroll songs ever. Lookin’ Out the Screen Door was produced by Lloyd Maines who worked on Carroll’s first three studio efforts and his first live album. Among the highlights on this record are “Race Car Joe”, which Slaid Cleaves later covered on his album, Unsung, “Errol’s Song”, the story of a hunting partner of Carroll’s father who Adam looked up to all of his life, and “Karaoke Cowboy”, which tells of a failed Nashville singer living a different life of fame as a the karaoke DJ in a small town. My personal favorite on the album is Carroll’s ode to unchanging love, “Blondie and Dagwood”. One other song that is a favorite of other artists to cover and fans to hear is “Girl With the Dirty Hair” which was the first tune of Carroll’s I personally heard.


The next studio album that I want to touch on is Old Town Rock n Roll. Recorded in Mark Jungers garage with the help of Jungers and Canadian musician, Scott Nolan this album found Carroll captured in his relaxed finest. The looseness of this record allows the quirks of Carroll’s vocals shine through the perfectly written lyrics. While Maines always seemed to find a way to present Carroll’s work in a great light this record doesn’t try to mask the scars and marks on the songs and it really is a breath of fresh air.


The standouts are “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler”, “Hi-Fi Love, and “Highway Prayer” all songs that make you feel good sometimes smiling and sometimes just nodding your head in agreement. To close the album is a song that makes all older guitar players grin, “Porter Wagoner (AKA the Silvertone Song)”, tells of the gap between generations and the nostalgia that comes from a cheap guitar signed by a legend.


This article would be a failure if I did not mention how much I love both of Carroll’s live albums. Live at Cheatham Street Warehouse was released in 2002 and hits almost all the best songs from the first two records along with some great stories and a few previously unreleased songs. The story and version of “Errol’s Song” on this alone is worth the price of the album.


In 2010 Carroll released the second live album, Live at Flipnotics. This time Carroll was joined by Scrappy Jud Newcomb on lead guitar and the songs span his entire career, including live versions of “Oklhoma Gypsy Shuffler”, “Home Again”, “The Girl With the Dirty Hair” and “Billy Gibbons’ Beard”, which appeared on he and Michael O’ Connor’s ablum, Hard Times.


Speaking of Hard Times, it may well be my favorite record released in 2010 and if not it is damn close. An album with a theme of Gulf Coast losers it really is a great collaborations. Carroll and O’Connor take turns singing the lead parts on the songs, and co-wrote most of the material on the record. “Billy Gibbons’ Beard” is my favorite song that Carroll sings on it. It is sad and funny all at the same time, which is a common thread on the album. The other Carroll standout is the title track which is kind of self-explanatory.


Overall Carroll’s career is already amazing and shows no signs of slowing down. I would really suggest buying everything in his catalog because there is not a bad one among them. Also do yourself a favor and go see this guy live if he ever comes near you.







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