Adam Carroll, Gallery Lombardi Lounge
Gallery Lombardi Lounge Thirty-three. That was the number of people inside the Gallery Lombardi Lounge when Adam Carroll took the stage. It's no stretch to say that kismet clearly ain't on your side when you draw a Wednesday night slot in the SXSW lottery. Going up against the music awards in any town would be a bummer, but when you factor in the incestuous quotient of Austin (extremely high) and the fact that one out of every three people gets to wear a Day-Glo orange sticker with the word "Winner" and a silhouette of Doug Sahm emblazoned across it to the party, who wouldn't want to attend? Plus, when Carroll stepped on the stage, he looked like lethargy incarnate. That's not exactly the best way to storm the stage and make your memorable first SXSW impression. But once he started strumming chords, he was instantly alluring and, better yet, unmistakably Texan (hey, if you got the home field advantage, work it). After coming off like Woody Guthrie for one song (no, he's not Texan), he immediately settled into a groove that was 75% John Prine and one-quarter Townes Van Zandt. It's not hyperbole to drop those names, because first, Carroll has a voice that's about 20 years older than his face (not to mention a Steve Forbert rasp for a kicker) and a pen that's got another decade on that; and second, like Prine, Carroll has the rare ability to do silly without being corny. His "Mr. Snow Cone Man," backed up against his song about meeting Jesus in his jail cell, showed the even rarer ability to pull off both irony and sincerity with equal deftness. It was only when he strayed into the obligatory Louisiana song (hell, every Texan writes at least one at some point) that Carroll was no longer convincing. The phrases which at other times seemed so true -- and what native Lone Star wouldn't appreciate a line like "$3.65 for a can of snuff was poorly spent"? -- were all of a sudden borrowed and boring. But it was a hiccup in an otherwise stirring set of story-songs that would give Robert Earl Keen fanatics and Guy Clark aficionados alike reason to listen. No, it was bad luck for Carroll to draw the spot he did, because like Ryan Adams, he's got not only the worldly sense of someone well beyond his years, but the ability to put it into song without sounding trite or melodramatic. But hell, by set's end, even the punk rockers from the Beerland showcase outside had filtered in and, off a song and a half, were giving Carroll his due applause.
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