Jason Michael Carroll doesn't look like he sounds - and that intrigue only heightens both realities of the tangy vocalist from North Carolina. After all, to hear him is to hear a straight-up, full-tilt, no-frills country singer who works a groove like a mule team, a melody like a barrel racer going for time, and a tear jerker with the dignity of Sunday grace.
But to look at the rangy 28-year-old is to see a twinkle in the eye of a kid who could be just as at home on a surf or skateboard, a bit of mischief and kicked-back cool that says suburban sprawl and good times found where they fall.
Carroll not only isn't afraid of the contradictions, he leans into them with a freewheeling abandon. To listen to the thump'n'bump of "Waitin' in the Country," with its great big, descending bass-line and big-flanged electric guitars; the chuggingly insistent "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead," with its turbo-diesel chording; or the romping, universal whirl of "Anywhere USA," with its sawing fiddles and wailing steel guitar, is to understand this is a young man who likes to have economy-sized fun. Yet just as quickly, he can sink his teeth into the fight-for-the-one-you're-meant-to-be-with intensity of "Love Won't Let Me," the celebration of life and enduring love in "Livin' Our Love Song," or the resolved acceptance of life on its terms with "Let It Rain," which speaks to a seriousness that exists below the obvious inside the emerging singer/songwriter.
The power of the lyric, and Carroll's performance, touched a nerve with listeners across the country. Already a Top 10 country airplay single weeks before his album's February 6, 2007 release, "Alyssa Lies" became the fastest-rising debut single by a male country artist in 2006. The song also set a record in its first week of availability, earning the highest country new artist debut in the history of SoundScan's Digital Songs chart. And while that all sounds rather commercial in light of the subject matter, it's a reflection of the impact and resonance of a genuinely heartfelt song. As Carroll has visited radio and made appearances in city after city, people have shared their real-life stories and their thanks for the voice he gave them and others, even to the point of approaching him to say, "I'm not an Alyssa, but," or perhaps more poignantly, "I was an Alyssa."
It is a lot for a debut album, for certain. But for Jason Michael Carroll, it's just scratching the surface. Whether it's the poignancy of "Alyssa Lies," the blow-up-the-weekend revelry of "Honky Tonk Friends," or the sweeping desire of "Lookin' at You," Carroll finds his voice in any kind of song - just so long as it's country.