On ‘Still Life,’ Austin’s Carson McHone Drops Wild Affecting Effort (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photographer Credit: Carson McHone

For her third effort – and first, for Merge Records – Austin’s Carson McHone headed north to work with Canadian musician and producer Daniel Romano. The result is easily her strongest effort to date, and a perfect take, both musically and lyrically, on the conflicting emotions and themes of love. From heartbreak and sadness to excitement and unease, Still Life is a wildly affecting record.

Then opening track, “Hawks Don’t Share” brilliantly spotlights McHone’s deft imagery backed by electric guitars and organ. The song is a nice contrast to the much more subdued, “Fingernail Moon.” The accordion comes in halfway into the song to great effect. Elsewhere, the horns and background vocals on “Only Love,” give off strong Otis Redding vibes. The record manages to be both sparse at times and wide open elsewhere. Hard to believe the record was made in a home studio with just McHone, Romano; Mark Lalama (accordion, piano, and organ), and David Nardi (saxophone) filling out the sound.

“Daniel is a perceptive player, and his response was intuitive and organic,” said McHone recently. “Shadows sharpened and came to life as full vignettes that felt familiar in a magical way, a product of keeping things emotionally open. I think we picked up on things that were unwritten.” This marks the first time McHone, and Romano have collaborated but there is a cohesiveness and ease to the songs here that would have you believe they have worked together for years. The record closes on the bittersweet, subdued “Tried,” the shortest track here clocking in at less than two minutes, but one of the most emotionally significant. The album closes on the lyric: “Don’t let the light in there’s nowhere to hide and when you write it say that I tried”. Lyrically, it’s both beautiful and heart-rending and serves as the perfect coda to the record. Appropriately enough, McHone is about to reschedule her North American tour, hitting the road with Romano.

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