Right from the start, Carousel wears its influences on its sleeves. Sad could be from a bygone age musically, vocally and lyrically. Nevertheless, it has all the hallmarks of a modern, vibrant record. The sound is rich and full with electric guitar slicing through the more old-timey production.
The protagonist in Sad admits to lying to a lover. Drugs ramps it up a notch: “I would keep it clean/So cleanly a lie/So lie with me/And together we’ll lie/Lie to each other.” The chorus is hard-hitting: “I can’t sleep hungry/I need drugs/I need drugs/I need drugs.” A slight shift draws in the potential for metaphor: “I need your drugs.”
Lucky flips the bad behaviour to the subject of the song: “you claim you’re just dancing but I know you’re romancing.” McHone’s voice is clear like label mate Courtney Marie Andrews’, but the instrumentation and musical style is more traditional, Still, Lucky does not wallow in the old ‘stand by your man’ tropes. The chorus picks up the pace with an almost audible smile: “ain’t you lucky that I love being lonely.”
Good Timin’ Daddy has a country blues sound as could be expected from the title. It’s frank, told in the vernacular: “you can ride you a pony/you can drive you a truck/but if you don’t feel right/you’re shit out of luck.”
Another protagonist with spirit narrates Dram Shop Girl: “I still like to do my running round so I could could not be/I will not be bound.” The shuffle beat and fiddle carry the ode to independence.
The introduction to Gentle could barely be more so; it’s an ambient instrumental recorded in studio with conversations left in. Certainly an interesting decision to give it a place on the record. On digital, it’s a separate track as if it separates sides A and B. The main track, Gentle, riffs on a classic: “my broken heart won’t play gentle with my mind.” McHone’s gentle twang amplifies the classic connection. The country waltz is peaceful despite the protagonist’s tumultuous heartbreak.
Maybe They’re Just Really Good Friends is as funny as the title sounds. Though it’s played straight on record, it’s certainly tongue-in-cheek when played live, with a t-shirt to prove it!
McHone’s tender tunes about love, How ‘Bout It and Good Luck Man, focus less on twang and more on pure vocal. Definitely one for Courtney Marie Andrews fans out there (which should be all of you.)
The final track, Spider Song, is an assurance of undying love. It’s bathed in mythos: “‘Tis slander from/the serpent’s tongue/That says that I’m a liar/It’s to you that I’m true.” It’s a gorgeous sounding way to end the record.
With Carousel, McHone shows a reverence for traditional country sounds, but it’s weaved with modern influences and production standards, and shrewd and worldly takes. Do yourself a favour and pick this up along with Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life.
Carson McHone will be back in the UK in June. Head to the Loose website to get your tickets.
26 May – NOTTINGHAM The Maze
27 May – SHEFFIELD Café 9
28 May – BRISTOL Hen & Chicken
29 May – WITNEY Fat Lil’s
30 May – LONDON Borderline (supported by Izzie Walsh)
01 June – THETFORD Red Rooster Festival
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