Essential Hays Six-Pack
"At one point a few years ago, I became really tired with my writing, and really critical of it," admits Hays. "My ultimate prescription for that was to write less about myself and my feelings. It's been a shift more toward humanism than my own personal sadness or defeat, and I think that's made me a better writer."
Opening track to Hays' eponymous debut LP reflects her natural eye for the minute details of small-town life. The mournful cello draws a low tension to the easy lope of acoustic guitar, yearning yet still full of wonder.
"You Don't Have to Wait"
The slow loss of love and pieces left behind linger in this standout track from Hays' sophomore effort, Drought. The song's quiet contemplation against a haunting backdrop stings with the lonely regret of a stubborn, fatalistic heart.
Jonathan Terrell guests with dueling ache and want on this short gem from 2014's O' Montana EP. His low drawl nestles naturally against Hays' crystalline vox, recalling the tender duets of Austin's Carrie Rodriguez and Chip Taylor.
"Ribbon of Highway"
Hays' highway anthem from River Swimmer captures her restless spirit and the exhilaration and longing of the open road. The driving percussion and guitar steadies the wheel as the song roars toward the endless horizon. A reliable set closer.
Inspired by her Lexington Terrace neighbor packing up her lifelong home, "Gloria" is Hays' most mature songwriting. Empathetic and moving, the song lulls with slow mourning and reflection of a life packed away, memories swirling in the lines of Aaron Lee Tasjan's electric guitar.
"Lake of Fire"
Unreleased by Hays, Bruce Robison recorded this live staple for last year's Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band. Robison gives the late-night leaving town ramble an easy Seventies folk arrangement that flows fiddle, steel, roadhouse piano.