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Carson McHone Carousel

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While other genres maintain longevity through change and evolution, such as the always forward-thinking jazz, country music's primary appeal is its familiarity.

The reason might lie in the largely unchanged conditions of the American working class, whose lives country music scores. As themes of heartbreak, poverty and addiction remain as relevant as ever, so does the accompanying chorus of banjos, fiddles and weeping pedal steels.

Abounding with images of rotation, Carson McHone's second studio album Carousel embraces this sense of cyclical, generational recurrence. Lyrically, repeated heartbreaks and self-destructive romances are symbolised by the motif of chemical dependency. 'Dram Shop Girl' takes place in a bar, where McHone "keeps spinning round", while 'Drugs' employs a familiar love-as-drug conceit with such disarming directness it begins to seem literal: "I need drugs / I need drugs / I need your drugs". Heavy themes are tackled with vocals that are delicate but deft, recalling a latter-day Iris DeMent.

McHone relishes the irony in the juxtaposition of sad lyrics with upbeat music, a hallmark of country. 'Lucky' is a carousel in itself, its dizzying tempo shifts capturing a sense of manic self-deception: "Ain't it lucky that I love being lonely?" The slower songs, however, are the record's emotional core. 'How 'Bout It' exposes the full devastating beauty of its chord progression with a skeletal piano arrangement, before introducing pedal steel and brushed snare.

In a last-ditch effort to bring the record's churning heartache to a standstill, the closing 'Spider Song' ends with a funereal harmonium drone.

Andrew Trayford

Next article in issue 130

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