Carson McHone’s Still Life is a complex tight wired folk-rock tapestry that evokes the organic purity of the 70’s musical quest that always pursued the melody of the perfect circumference of a circular soul. This record haunts those old grooves and vibrates with pretty great tunes.
Put simply: This is a really great folk-tinged rock record.
The press release suggests this album if for fans of (later day) Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, and The Pretenders. That’s very true. And, if I may suggest, Still Life will certainly appeal to devotees of Canada’s Blue Rodeo, who manage, year after year, to make albums (like their recent Many A Mile) with deeply layered songs deserving of countless spins on the turntable.
But Carson also cites a camaraderie with the “phrasing and tones of John Cale, The Kinks, and Richard and Linda Thompson”. That’s true, too – especially through the press release cited connectional concept of “bardo”, which in the Buddhist vernacular describes “the intermediate, transitional, of luminal state between death and rebirth”. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) Perhaps, as John Cale suggested, “Fear is a man’s best friend”. Anyway, Carson is from Texas, and this music touches Southern country soil, but it’s also a much more expansive journey into a quite melodic pigmented portrait of some sort of universal “sabotage, confusion, and surrender”. Let’s just say this album haunts that “luminal state between death and rebirth” and has a tightrope tension that slices with a warm dagger’s cut into long-lasting (with repeated spins!) vinyl grooves.
And that’s the very human grist of this record: As my friend, Kilda Defunt, often says, “Of course, John Barleycorn must always die, so we can drink to his continued health”.
Not only that, but my Kilda also suggested that “bardo” would also be a word worthy of a very popular five-letter Wordle daily puzzle game.
That said, three songs are rough and ready rock with swagger to burn. ‘Hawks Don’t Share’ pulses with horns and a Chrissie Hynde attitude. The tune erupts with a big chorus and a sax solo (Thank you, David Nardi!). The title song, ‘Still Life’, continues with Pretenders’ swash, while the pounded piano and swirling organ colour the tune, until an electric guitar solo (which has been held in check) unleashes a big fuzzed volcanic coda that catches the drama of the lyric that juxtaposes “still life” with the defiant “still alive”. And ‘Someone Else’ is urgent emotion set to an irresistible melody. The organ and piano toy with and sweeten the tune as the guitar slices through the passion. It’s a nice carnival ride with clever backing vocals.
By the way, the production by Daniel Romano, who also plays drums, bass, and guitar, and catches a perfect organic balance between electric and acoustic instruments. As said, this album is a tight wired complex tapestry with woven nuances that reveal its secrets through repeated spins.
Injected into the mix is ‘Fingernail Moon’, a strummed country-waltzed song with Mark Lalama’s accordion and a pathos-seeped guitar that does, indeed, have a Richard Thompson touch.
And then injected even deeper into the mix is the immense heartbeat song, ‘Spoil On The Vine’, which begins with Carson’s acoustic voiced plea, but evolves into big drama that (sort of) conjures the depth of early Lionheart era Kate Bush, especially with the wonderful backing vocals. Strident guitar chords (which recall ‘Shoot Out The Lights’) are interrupted by a organ interlude, until the song ends with a punctuated burst that crosses an exhausted finish line.
Thankfully, ‘Sweet Magnolia’ quells the fire with piano, voice, and big symphonic sound that, indeed, touch that emotional Texas soil.
‘Only Lovers’ wobbles delightfully with sax euphoria and yet another irresistible melody.
Then, ‘End Of The World’ conforms to acoustic gravity with earthy beauty, and once again slow dances to a Texas melodic heartbeat that “lives in the in-between”. As does the beautiful piano acoustic guitar graced southern gothic ‘Trim The Rose’, which picks up folk-rock steam with a nice guitar solo and stays on the quiet side of any passionate moon.
Oh my – ‘Folk Song’ glances at English tradition, and doesn’t shy away from an adoration to (the already mentioned several times)) Richard Thompson’s intense guitar playing. Let’s just say once again, we should all “meet on the ledge”.
The brief acoustic ‘Tired’ gazes with stern hope at a barren landscape. Some unnamed ghost sings the song with crossed road caution – which is a fitting end to the album. Yes, indeed, the word “bardo” should be the Wordle word of the day, and this album should be a soundtrack to that word because it reaches, with 70’s rock music lasting life, into a tight wired folk-rock tapestry in which the music is consumed into transitional fire, and still, even after all these years, is that always warm dagger that cuts into old grooves, and manages somehow, a musical quest that pursues the melody of the perfect circumference of a circular soul as it haunts those old graves and stirs with vibrant, and pretty great, brand new tunes.
Put simply (thankfully, again!): This album starts with “still life” but ends with a defiant “still alive”. This music melts frozen weather.
Artist’s website: http://www.carsonmchonemusic.com/
‘Still Life’ – official video:
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