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Adam Carroll

FAR AWAY BLUES  • Adam Carroll

Is it the water? Or the lack of it? Maybe it's the dust. Or the sky. I've heard that if you stand on a tuna can in Lubbock, you can check out the weather in Austin. Whatever it is, Texas has produced a string of superior singer-songwriters that, while they are no carbon copies of one another, sound distinctively...well...Texan. Robert Earl Keen, Nancy Griffith, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, the list is long and growing. If you haven't already, add to that dinstinguished and distinctive lineage Adam Carroll, whose third release, Far Away Blues is a lovely "wish you were here" postcard of an album. Like other Texas singer-songwriters before him, Carroll is a storyteller--a canny observer of the quotidian detail and sympathetic chronicler of the modest life.  His songs, like many a Texas troubadour before him, are pleasingly direct and sometimes spiced with a generous pinch of humor.

On Far Away Blues, producer Lloyd Maines for the most part lets Carroll's songs speak for themselves, without extraneous production to get in the way of their sweet simplicity or Carroll's honest delivery. On the contrary, Maines attempts to achieve a homey feel in details like having Carroll say the name of each song before it starts. I'm not sure that it actually adds to the sense of genuineness--sometimes it feels a bit like a distraction--but there are plenty of other decisions around instrumentation and arrangements that do support the folksy, backporch feel. Instrumentation, for example, tends to stay solidly in the folk, country, and bluegrass arena with mandolin, fiddle, and slide guitar, while occasional forays into celtic or classical settings are suggested by the songs themselves and not randomly applied.

What is striking about Carroll's songwriting is that while he definitely deals in classic Texas images--drinking in bars, highways, cars, hillbillies--he does so with a light touch and a gentle heart. The album exhibits more love than edge, without seeming maudlin, and there's a strong sense that Carroll feels genuine tenderness for his characters and these places, even when he's poking gentle fun:

Lester's old but he plays till ten
Got a pacemaker and a mandolin
He put Kelly tires on your brand new cars
He doesn't like to sing at the goddamn bars

At the AFL-CIO rubber division don't you know
Pick all night with the high and low at the AFL-CIO

In other songs, like "Rice Birds," Carroll offers up beautiful and unexpected imagery  to delve into the lonely side of love and landscape: "I was thinking of you when the rice birds flew / When the false dawn came with the morning dew / You're the thunderstorm raging outside my garage / You're the white shirt peeking through my camouflage." 

The album ends with "Peace On Earth," a hymn-like plea for peace, in which Carroll reminds us that "Buddha, Mohammed and Vishnu, too / And the forsaken son / Say there'll be peace on earth my friends / When we become as one." A fitting end to a tender yet lively album from a songwriter with a clear-eyed vision and a heart as wide open as all Texas.
• Judith Edelman

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