Adam Carroll- I Walked in Them Shoes review

Adam Carroll I Walked in Them Shoes

We haven’t heard a new Townes Van Zandt album in too many years; we won’t again, of course. But there is no shortage of troubadours—Texans and otherwise—who learned the art listening to and emulating him, and Guy Clark, Eric Taylor, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, and the like.

Looking Out the Screen Door remains one of my favourite albums; I listened to it again this week, and can’t imagine why I haven’t pulled it out of its drawer in a decade or more. Actually, I know exactly why I haven’t listened to it—there is just so damn much other music coming at me regularly that I can’t delve into the basement bunker as often as I might like. Fact is and most often, if I am not listening to a new album, I’m likely listening to an artist’s older albums because I have to review the new one. Adam Carroll’s folks just haven’t got his albums into my hands.

‘Til now, that is.

I purchased another Adam Carroll album a few years ago, the Hard Times project he did with Michael O’Connor awhile back. I’ve heard the occasional song as they’ve made their way to radio, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been paying attention the way I should.

The writer and singer of “Blondie & Dagwood,” “Screen Door,” “Girl With the Dirty Hair,” “Rosemary’s Song,” “Rice Birds,” and “Lil Runaway” deserved better from this listener.  I Walked in Them Shoes is masterful.

It doesn’t take too many seconds upon hearing Adam Carroll’s voice for awareness of his mastery of the tradition to be realized. Carroll’s deep, resonant voice is ideal for a dusty poet and barroom troubadour. High, low, and in-between, Carroll minimally adjusts his vocal approach depending on the song, but not so much as to create affectation.

Confessional and literate, when Carroll sings he becomes the character inhabiting the voice: the only difference between the combatant seeking relational justice (“The Last Word”) and the loving partner of “Cordelia” is the circumstance of routine in which we find them.

No shortage of honesty within these ten songs. With Carroll’s own forthright and plain-spoken self-awareness, “Storms” cuts through empty thoughts and prayers: “I prayed for Puerto Rico when I’m in bed safe and warm, as I lay down to go to sleep they’re still struggling with that storm.”

“Night At the Show,” “This Old Garage,” and “My Only Good Shirt” reveal different aspects of the musician’s experience, all for the sake of a song. Carroll remains one of the most compelling narrative songwriters, and the album’s centerpiece is “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger,” a saga of rejuvenation.

Again recording with Lloyd Maines (producer as well as pedal steel, slide and rhythm guitars), I’m told I Walked In Them Shoes is as close to a ‘solo’ album we’ve got from Carroll. The duo recorded the album in a single day late in 2018, and the immediate nature of the recording is apparent, down to Carroll announcing each song by title as is his wont. No gloss, no elaborate arrangements: just a singer, his songs, and a trusted confidant creating intimate, lyrically-rich performances. Elegant and pointed, obscure and abstract, Carroll’s sharp syllables create a rhythm that reminds one of TVZ as few others achieve:

Did I see you bet the Devil you would win at any game he could play?

Did I hear you talk to angels right before the old songs slipped away?

It’s just a farce—it’s just a ride—it’s just a backstage pass—it’s just the colours in the rainbow

But win, lose, or draw it’s all just the night at the show…

            -“Night at the Show,” Adam Carroll                               

I appreciate the opportunity to rediscover a singer-songwriter I had inadvertently overlooked for the better part of two decades. Fine reminder, and impetus to set aside a few dollars to make several purchases in the near future. Adam Carroll’s I Walked in Them Shoes is worthy of your concentrated attention. A damn fine listen.

[Review based on supplied CD.]

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