REVIEW: Carson McHone’s “Carousel” Features Unhealed Broken Hearts


Austin singer-songwriter Carson McHone was playing Texas honky-tonks long before she could drink in them, and her 2015 debut, Goodluck Man, was populated with tunes inspired by those boozy nights. Her new release, Carousel (Nine Mile Records), contains both new songs and reconfigured older ones, fleshed out as the singer has grown with her material and musical tastes, which have branched out from traditional country.

The album starts rather darkly with “Sad”, which imagines depression as a partner, almost another person: “One night I had myself a dream/That Sad and I, we played hide and seek/And she could not find me ‘cause I would not cry.” Despite the mostly upbeat tempo of the music, sadness proves inescapable – “It made me mean and I woke up tired/I’ve got this sad.” The next song, “Drugs” (co-written with Chris Brecht) portrays the single-minded fixation of an addict – hunger, sleep, nothing matches the pull, and the singer repeats the same phrase – “I need drugs” – both desperately and exhaustedly.

Cheatin’ hearts make their appearance on the record – you know they do. “Lucky” and “Good Time Daddy Blues” give us guys that run around, but also a sense of the detachment coming from the female character – “Ain’t you lucky, lucky that I love being lonely” McHone sings. And the woman in “Dram Shop Gal” is the one who won’t be contained. The melancholy, fiddle-driven tune gives us a woman who can’t stop – “I need my spinning ‘round” – for fear that her world will crash if she does.

For the most part, broken hearts find no healing on Carousel. The acoustic guitar-driven. ¾ time weeper “Gentle With My Mind” finds the singer giving a go at moving on, but no such luck: “I bet my heart against my brain/And every time I lose.” And the mournful, piano-laden “How ‘Bout It” catalogs what we lose as we grow older and more bitter: “How ‘bout reaching for the iron just to feel it burn.” But there are good things to be had and heard. The lovers in “Spider Song”, while perhaps not ideal, have found a certain amount of peace – “Take my pillow for your head and though I have no feather bed/Rest assured the melody I sing holds more promise than a ring.” Seems that, over acoustic guitar and simmering keys, a few of the souls who walked into those bars that McHone once played may have found some simple happiness in a complicated world after all.

Carousel was produced by McHone and Mike McCarthy and recorded at Sienna Studio A and D in Nashville and Church House Studio in Austin. A fantastic set of musicians, including Tim Brennan, Jedd Hughes, Glen Duncan, Lillie Mae Rische, Frank Rische, Glenn Worf, Jerry Roe, Adam Wright, Sam Kossler, David Boyle, Jason Baczynski, and Alexander Lynch provide music which is frequently and contrastingly upbeat, giving the often-devastating lyrics even more emotional depth.  Get your copy here:


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