There’s a specificity to this song, by Austin, Texas-based roots rocker Eric Hisaw, that pulls you all the way into the story. Boasting a Johnny Cash-style railyard rhythm, the great lonesome prairie whine of Lloyd Maines’ pedal steel, and a rough-hewn vocal that sounds like the very personification of the shoulder on a gravel road, “Payphone” might have been a great song even without its note-perfect lyrical complexity.
Then you listen, and really hear, what Hisaw’s saying: “I’m outside the Laundromat just trying to explain, in this Louisiana payphone in the rain,” he offers. “Hiding in the corner beneath the greasy black sky, ain’t a star above that going to shine any light.”
Just what he’s apologizing for is unclear, and he’s having trouble articulating things himself. Soon, as the song continues its shuffling journey, the sense of desolation becomes complete. He’s still on the phone, but the words have dried up: “The stretches of silence are getting longer,” Hisaw sings. “I’m standing here in this good full inch of water, staring at the bottom of the pint that I drank.”
That hard-bitten, working-class realism propels “Payphone,” and, really, all of Hisaw’s fifth full length, Ghost Stories — due out today, courtesy of Saustex Media. Maines appears on four cuts, adding lap steel and dobro, as well.
Hisaw, a Las Cruces, New Mexico native, saw his 2006 and 2008 releases reach the Top 5 on the Freeform American Roots chart. He made his debut with 2000’s Thing About Trains. Ghost Stories began as a series of live in-studio sessions, recorded with bassist/keyboardist Ron Flynt and drummer Vicente Rodriguez, and it retains a blessedly ragged Rolling Stones-ish feel throughout. Recommended for fans of Steve Earle, Joe Ely and Alejandro Escovedo.