Highway Prayer Honors the Music of Adam Carroll
Tribute albums are for “late” in a musician’s career or even life, right? Well, not necessarily.
When Jenni Finlay and Brian T. Atkinson of Eight 30 Records first approached Tyler-raised Adam Carroll about making an album to honor him and his songs, the prolific singer-songwriter was a bit flabbergasted. He’s barely 42 years old and he’s healthy, and his following is, uh, rather underground. “Why me,” he thought.
“I was kinda shocked, actually,” Carroll said. “My wife, Chris, and I were coming back from touring. Jenni and Brian asked us to eat dinner with them, and Jenni played me a song she’d recorded — somebody doing one of my songs — and I was blown away by it, honored, and surprised.”
When news of the project spread, Carroll said, “Some people asked if I was sick, but I’m not.”
Music — like any other art — can be a difficult life choice because of the emotions that are so often a part of creativity. It’s a reality Carroll readily acknowledges.
“I told Jenni this has helped me — if I get down about my career — to think of my songs as something I should be proud of. It was kinda special that all of these people — some of whom probably have more of a fan base, or less of an underground fan base, but are pretty well known — have done these songs because they like them and they mean something to them.”
The album, Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll, features 15 of his songs, mostly ones he wrote early in his career. There’s also a bonus track of Carroll singing a new song, “My Only Good Shirt.”
The CD features familiar Americana artists, beginning with the iconic James McMurtry doing “Screen Door,” followed by Hayes Carll, “Girl with the Dirty Hair;” Slaid Cleaves, “South of Town;” The Band of Heathens, “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler;” Jamie Lin Wilson, “Hi-Fi Love;” Verlon Thompson, “Lil’ Runaway;” Scott Nolan, “Rain;” and Matt the Electrician, “Old Town Rock N Roll.” Other artists paying tribute include Tim Easton and Aaron Lee Tasjan, “Black Flag Blues;” Danny Barnes, “Smoky Mountain Taxi;” Jason Eady, “Errol’s Song;” Terri Hendrix, “Red Bandana Blues;” Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh, “Karaoke Cowboy;” Mando Saenz, “Home Again;” and Walt Wilkins, “Highway Prayer.”
The new song that Carroll sings to finish the album is, like most of his creations, based on, but not beholden to, reality. It’s about another musician who left his “performance shirt” at a club in Beaumont and who emailed Carroll, who had a gig at the same club the following night, to see if Carroll would rescue the special shirt, which he did. The email’s title was “my only good shirt.”
Carroll won’t admit to a favorite song on the album, although he mentions Nolan’s version of “Rain” because it’s the only song on the album that sounds substantially different from the way he recorded it himself. His most emotional reaction, he says, was to the versions done by Cleaves and Hendrix because he’s known them the longest, he said.
“They were there for me when I first got started playing, so that’s really special to me,” he said. “I used to open their shows, and still do sometimes.”
Praise is abundant.
“It speaks volumes,” Rolling Stone declared of the tribute CD, “that James McMurtry and Hayes Carll and many more all contribute to a new homage to Adam Carroll. It’s a diverse group united by a shared appreciation of a writer who may be only 42 but is talented beyond his years.”
Carll once admitted in No Depression magazine that he used to “skip my own gigs to go watch” Carroll, calling him “by far my favorite, somebody whose writing style I emulated in some ways.”
“Adam Carroll,” McMurtry says, “is like a very young Kris Kristofferson. He writes about things that are older than me. You get a bunch of guys who more people have heard of to sing someone’s songs, it maybe makes their stock go up, which is fine by me.”
“There are only a couple of writers,” Cleaves adds, “who consistently catch my ear and remind me of the subtle joy that great songs can bring. It’s artisanal songwriting. Never gonna be sold at Walmart, but it’ll remind the fortunate few that great songwriting can connect you to your neighbors, your fellow humans, even your own jaded heart.”
Great songwriting connects us to one another and ourselves — that’s the essence of Carroll’s songs, the ones where he says he tries “to write about average ordinary every day things in such a way that makes them extraordinary.”