Townes Van Zandt is among the most influential artists manqué of the last 20 years. Saying a modern folk or country act sounds like him is like saying a 1990s punk band resembles Operation Ivy. Some influences are so tidal they become conditions of the ecosystem. On the quieter tracks of his recent Lovers and Leavers, Hayes Carll employs the same creaky tenor, atonal glissandos and melodic phrasing as his predecessor. It's a pleasing similarity if you like Van Zandt as I do. But it also encourages you to look for the line between influence and homage.
Fortunately, Lovers and Leavers adds new elements to Van Zandt's sonic palette. The rolling country waltz of "You Leave Alone" is reinforced with reverberating, triplet snaps reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Carll's rhythm tracks often swell with layered keyboards, pedal steel and sometimes even strings, emphasizing the way his chord changes evoke Bonnie "Prince" Billy. He may have borrowed Van Zandt's reedy voice and trademark intervals, but he has incorporated them into a fuller, more complicated sound. Fans of quiet country balladeers will probably like him, because he sounds very much of his time. But he remains his own artist, his feet planted on the shoulders of giants though they may be.
Hayes Carll plays the Top Hat Sat., July 30, at 10 PM along with Luke Bell. $20/$17 advance.