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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Hayes Carll created a stir in the world of Americana music when he released his album "Little Rock" in 2005. He was 28.

Our critic Robert Christgau thinks Carll's songwriting has matured since then, and that maturity sounds good.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Hayes Carll grew up around Houston, went to college in Arkansas, and lives in Austin. But he was seasoned in the roughneck bars west of Highway 87, on the beachfront peninsula that separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. He even called his label Highway 87.

Here's the start of a laundry list of good-ol'-boy topics Hayes Carll wished he could've covered on that album.

(Soundbite of song, "Down the Road Tonight")

Mr. HAYES CARLL (Singer): (Singing) Thrift store cowboys, five and dime junkies, red dirt plow boys, asphalt monkeys, holy rollers, signal callers, truck stop angels, backstreet brawlers, Van Zant groupies, guitar slingers, Hallelujah gospel singers, freight train mommas, pistol shooters, my first girlfriend works at Hooters…

CHRISTGAU: That's a funny song, and four years later at 32 Hayes Carll still identifies as a good old boy on his major label debut "Trouble in Mind." But he's found out that being funny doesn't mean you can't get serious. The amused empathy of a hesitant romance in "Girl Downtown" has a well-meaning, John Prine-ish warmth that broadens his emotional repertoire.

(Soundbite of song, "Girl Downtown")

Mr. CARLL: (Singing) There's a girl downtown with freckles on her nose, a pencil in her pocket and ketchup on her clothes. She's a real nice girl, pretty as a plate. The boys call here Katie when they ask her on a date. And who knows, Katie, maybe you could be the one. There's a boy outside, standing in the rain, hands are in his pockets, he's wondering why he came. He's a real nice boy, slower than the fall. The girls call him Billy, if they're calling him at all. And who knows, Billy, maybe you could be the one.

CHRISTGAU: That one ends with a couple holding hands down by the pond, a step in the right direction for Katie and Billy. Hayes Carll himself is a worldlier a guy with raunchier tastes, as he makes clear in "Drunken Poet's Dream."

(Soundbite of song, "Drunken Poet's Dream")

Mr. CARLL: (Singing) I got a woman she's wild as Rome. She likes to lay naked and be gazed upon. Well, she crosses a bridge and then sets it on fire.

CHRISTGAU: Remember, that naked woman is only a dream, a poet's dream. Later on, she or maybe her evil twin puts on some clothes and turns into a bad dream, on this song, "A Lover Like You."

(Soundbite of song, "A Lover Like You")

Mr. CARLL: (Singing) You kissed the chef, he quit the band. Now you're walkin' around with a ring on your hand. You told me you need it. I almost believed it was true.

CHRISTGAU: Hayes Carll is what I look for in a singer/songwriter - articulately, tunefully, he's rowdy and good for a laugh - later for the sensitive stuff. But it's sensitive stuff that puts "Trouble in Mind" over the top. That's where Katie and Billy come from.

And on the next-to-last track, "Willing to Love Again," it gives him the grace to admit he isn't always such a dreamboat himself.

(Soundbite of song, "Willing to Love Again")

Mr. CARLL: (Singing) Out of all the dreams in this old world, how'd you get so unlucky, girl? To find a shell that had no pearl, a man who couldn't find home.

BLOCK: The latest album from Hayes Carll is called "Trouble in Mind." Robert Christgau writes about music for MSN.com.

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