David McClister Photo / Hayes Carll

Dolly Parton was once quoted as saying, "Songwriting is my way of channeling my feelings and thoughts. Not just mine, but the things I see, the people I care about. My head would explode if I didn't get that stuff out."

Hayes Carll is fully on board with that statement.

He's currently touring in support of "What It Is," the Lone Star native's sixth studio album, and first since 2016's "Lovers and Leavers." The contributions of the singer-songwriter's fiancée, Allison Moorer, are an added twist on this album's dozen songs. She not only had a hand in co-writing a number of cuts, but shared co-production duties with Brad Jones. It was a slightly different approach than Carll had taken on prior records. He's more than happy with the result.

Fans can hear the result of Carll and Moorer's collaboration at Songbirds on Wednesday night, Jan. 15.

"Having two people that I trusted and respected like that sort of freed me up to push myself a bit more, which is what I've been trying to do on the last couple of records—trying to avoid being in the same place," he explained in a phone interview.

"Writing-wise, I think there's a little bit of evolution there. Again, Allison played a big part in co-writing. But the subject matter for me, and the way that I presented it, was a little more direct and present, while still hanging onto some of the tools I've used in the past like humor, tempo and the personality of the song. I wasn't hiding behind characters or deflecting in a way that maybe I have in some of my past stuff. That was a bit of an evolution for me, being able to stand behind what I was doing and have it align with my life and being able to say so without having to hide it."

Having been introduced to a broader country music audience by artists such as Kenny Chesney and Lee Ann Womack covering his songs, the Texan realizes that newer fans might not be necessarily interested in his opinions on certain topics.

"Any time you have an opinion or have any kind of social commentary about something, [that can be a challenge]. A segment of my fan base — and this is something I've known, but was made more aware of recently — is not real down for that conversation," Carll admitted. "They would rather I stay away from that and provide entertainment for them and not bring these other parts [into the equation].

"I'm certainly aware of that when I go in to make a record, where I touch on a few of those things. But, I'm 40 the idea of censoring to make other people happy feels like a losing proposition to me at this point. It's something that I've maybe done for too long."

Carll's approach to his craft and reverence for honoring a song is what earned him initial comparisons to Townes Van Zandt, an early hero. It's an approach he still feels very strongly about.

"The power of [writing songs] was always really alluring. Whether it was Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, John Prine — there's a long list — they were people who were able to help me identify feelings I had or ways to articulate emotions or experiences for me that I didn't have the language for at that time. Or wasn't able to express," he recalled.

"That's a really powerful thing to do — when somebody can express how you're feeling for you and help you connect and make sense of it in that way. That was something I wanted a piece of. I wanted to see if I had that ability, because that's such a great gift to be able to share with somebody — and what a great way to spend your life figuring that stuff out by rhyming words and see if it means anything to anybody."

If you go

* Where: Songbirds Guitar Museum, 35 Station St. (South), 41 Station St. (North)
* For more information: 423-531-2473

* When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10 (S)
* Admission: $20

* When: 9 pm. Saturday, Jan. 11 (S)
* Admission: $15

* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 (N)
* Admission: $22 in advance, $25 at the door

* When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 (S)
* Admission: $15 in advance $20 at the door



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