Hayes Carll moves through 2008’s Trouble In Mind with a confident stride, even if his music reeks of damaged hopes and bad choices. His first major label release polishes up his scruffy songwriting a little, giving him a shot at mainstream airplay. But fundamentally, he remains an ornery outsider, adhering to the noble Texas tradition of visionary balladry exemplified by the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. A mood of lucid intoxication hangs over Trouble In Mind, emphasized by Carll’s parched vocals and love for folk, blues, and honky-tonk rooted melodies. He emotes with bleary-eyed tenderness on “Willing to Love Again” and “Beaumont,” then rocks like a renegade Rolling Stone (with help from ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird) on “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” Carll has a gift for long, flowing lyric lines — “A Lover Like You,” for instance, spews out stinging verbiage in the manner of vintage Bob Dylan. The edgiest (and funniest) cut here is “She Left Me for Jesus,” a scathing tune that lives up to its provocative title. In these tracks Carll enters the front ranks of alt-country artistry, stepping lively without succumbing to slickness.