Carroll's talent portrays
second coming of Dylan
I might be a little biased by the fact
that I've met him many times and he's absolutely the most charming and
unpretentious person I, personally,
have ever been swept away by the music
of, but I nonetheless feel objective in saying this: Adam Carroll rules.
Ha Lam/ Propaganda Group
Adam Carroll's songwriting
and musical skills follow the same tune as those of the legendary Bob Dylan,
an artist he has been compared to by
Carroll, born in Tyler and based in San
Marcos, is a singer-songwriter whose work draws inevitable comparisons
to that of Bob Dylan. The
reasons are numerous: his excellent songwriting
abilities, his imaginative, tongue-in-cheek storytelling, his playful guitar
work and harmonica.
But Carroll, while he remains on the road
paved by Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine, has a skill, warmth and
humor all his own.
Carroll's first release, 1999's South of
Town, was as notable for its unpretentiousness as for its maturity. The
album's first track, "Red Bandanna
Blues," became an instant favorite among
many who heard it on KPFT. The song is a catchy acoustic tale of "two tie-dyed
brain-fried misfits" who,
despite "nightmares of needles/ With the
Stones and the Beatles," "kept all the straight-laced businessmen confused."
Carroll has said the song is "about hippies
who live in East Texas towns like Crockett, Alto, Edom, Van and Madisonville
... people from Houston
trying to take a bit of Austin home with
Many, if not most, of Carroll's songs are
about real people, and he manages to fit a biography's work of human detail
into even the sparsest song.
Whether his lyrics are true or not, though,
Carroll has the true storyteller's gift of turning the personal into the
universal. His words paint vivid
pictures in the mind of the listener,
but the truths he points out are ubiquitous.
Even if you own both of Carroll's albums,
listen to them daily and are considering starting a small religion in his
honor, you have no idea how
talented he actually is until you've seen
him live. Most of his shows are in the Austin/San Marcos area, but he drops
by Houston once a month on
average, and you owe it to yourself to
The crowds are fairly small at his shows
as of yet — another reason to go as soon as possible, because anonymity
won't last long for somebody
this talented. And the talent that's noticeable
on his recordings is stunning in his live shows, which give him room to
play with his lyrics and music.
From the imperious music lovers at Austin's
Cactus Café to the dirty hippies at Larry Joe Taylor's Texas Music
Festival, it seems Carroll can
charm any crowd without even meaning to.
He's self-deprecating and friendly, a young
man with a tie-dyed T-shirt, an acoustic guitar and a storyteller's love
of conversation. He never fails
to make every show unique, whether referencing
the venue ("I bet those folks at Anderson Fair would like some reefer!"),
the town or even
individual audience members. Sing-alongs
are rampant and encouraged ("C'mon, y'all, sing like it's not Lent").
While the music Carroll writes certainly
falls within the folk category, his rock 'n' roll influences are evident
everywhere — perhaps unsurprising
from an artist who claims the Rolling
Stones' Exile on Main Street may be the best album ever recorded. "Red
Bandanna Blues," "Cole" and "Ol'
Milwaukee's Best," among others, know
how to rock.
But Carroll's ballads are perhaps his strongest
point. "Rosemary's Song" is streaked with imagery: "I'm on the world's
last steam train lookin' out
the window/ Watch another life go by/
You got me tongue-tied, gun-shy, standin' in your doorway/ Tryin' not to
say goodbye." For someone not
yet 30, Carroll has an impressive handle
on bliss and heartbreak.
It's easy at any of Carroll's shows to
pick out who's heard his music before and who hasn't, and one of the best
parts of every show is watching
those who aren't familiar with him rapidly
being won over. One crowd favorite, "Legs," begins with Carroll narrating
over the guitar, "This song's a
love story/ With a little allegory/ Though
I'm not sure what it's tryin' to teach about/ It isn't really leaning/
Toward a pornographic meaning/ But it's
kinky, of that I have no doubt." By the
time the song actually begins, appreciative laughter and beer-hoisting
is already widespread in the
"Sno-Cone Man" is another instant crowd-pleaser.
Over his deft guitar, Carroll tells the story of a romance between the
narrator and the sister of
the guy who sells Sno-Cones: "She said,
'My big, big boyfriend, I don't like him at all/ He's got a hard, hard
head and his Sno-Cone is small.'" By
the time the characters get married ("by
the Sno-Cone man/ He was a rabbi"), it's impossible not to love the song
(and the singer).
Someone with Adam Carroll's skill with
words (and obvious love of stories) could easily have chosen to be a writer.
Luckily for all of us, he chose
to accompany his quick-witted lyrics with
music that's just as engaging. Cast away your earthly possessions and follow
him like I have.
Carroll's next show is Saturday in Corpus
Christi; he's always touring, so for more information, visit www.adamcarroll.com.