Hayes Carll

It's awful early into 2005 to claim a year's best country effort, but Little Rock, from Houston native Hayes Carll, hearkens back to a time when country was honest, simple and tough. "I don't care if it's backwoods country, and I don't care if it's rock and roll," Carll sings on "Sit in With the Band," expressing the same sort of genre cohabitation championed by Gram Parsons and the Stones circa Beggar's Banquet. Check out the credible swamp blues of "Chickens" or the lively honky-tonk strut of "Down the Road Tonight" as convincing evidence that country can rock without turning into a trench-coat-and-mullet convention. With songs co-written with Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard, Carll is a much-needed younger voice in the alternative country wasteland. Full of spit and humor, Little Rock is the sound of roots breaking free of its constraints.

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