I Walked in Them Shoes
The instrumentation alternates between solo acoustic guitar and plus-one accompaniment — supplied via overdubs by either Carroll himself (who also plays harmonica and keyboards) or by producer Lloyd Maines (who provides rhythm, slide and well-traveled pedal steel guitar).
Carroll’s twangy and inviting tenor (picture a Venn diagram showing the overlap between Michael Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mike Nesmith) could warm the coldest heart, and is a perfect fit for his friendly songs about rambling, weather, women, garages and shirts. Furthermore, the Texas troubadour spins his tales in a literary yet down-to-earth and sometimes humorous fashion, like a musical Mark Twain.
In the middle of the album are two particularly resonant tunes. The first, “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger,” relates the life of a former Las Vegas rodeo rider whose best friend is a bottle of cheap fortified wine. Having once only nearly won a golden buckle, her hangouts in the years since have morphed from Barstow nightclubs to L.A. truckstops to a Northern California bar called the Dew Drop Inn up in Grass Valley.
“The Drew Drop Inn that you remember and the one that I refer to in ‘Iris’ are one and the same,” Carroll told Good New Music by email when this reviewer (who used to live in Grass Valley) inquired. “My wife and I played there. … It has a kind of rough-and-tumble charm. … I wrote that song, with my wife’s help as a ‘scribe,’ when we were driving through your fine state last year. Chris noticed a sign by the side of the highway that said ‘Wild Iris’ somewhere, I think it was along Highway 101, and we started talking about making a song out of that highway sign. The words came to me as we drove back toward Texas. I tried to give Chris a co-writer credit, but she wouldn’t take it.”
The sad tale of “Iris” ends on a happy note when a stranger in town pulls up to the Dew Drop Inn and announces, “I got nobody, but I’ve got a lot of land.” Iris pours him some of her Irish Rose, holds his hand and then takes him by the hand.
The next track, “This Old Garage,” is sort of a sentimental piece Carroll wrote as a tribute to fellow Texas singer-songwriter Mark Jungers — but from Jungers’ point of view. Anyone who’s spent hours on end in a garage listening to music can relate, but the protagonist and the person to whom he’s speaking took it even further by writing songs and recording demos of them on a cassette recorder in their hallowed spot.
“(Mark) is kind of a jack of all trades,” Carroll shared with GNM, “and were you to visit his garage, you’d likely see his old tractor parked in there, in addition to lots of greasy engine parts and electrical stuff that I don’t have the slightest idea how to use. Mark liked to play records in there, and he and I have started and finished many a song in ‘The Garajamahal,’ as some folks have taken to calling it. … I guess you could say that I was imagining Mark giving a tour to an aspiring young songwriter, of what had gone on in his garage; as though it were a museum to his musician buddies.”
The rest of “Shoes” is full of tunes equally as creative and memorable, and Carroll meets Maines’ high bar for musicianship throughout. Pat Manske’s recording, mixing and mastering at The Zone takes the whole affair to the pinnacle of perfection.
1. Walked In Them Shoes
4. Crescent City Angels
5. Iris And The Lonesome Stranger
6. This Old Garage
8. My Only Good Shirt
9. The Last Word
10. Night At The Show
Total time: 32:34