Well into a 40 date tour, Carson McHone proved tonight exactly why Loose Records invested time and effort in recruiting her to their record label at the back end of 2018. Resplendent in a white two piece suit and semi-matching black and white guitar, it was about the only stylised part of the performance – the rest of the evening a perfect demonstration of the honky tonk tradition, but one artfully updated for the modern era. Having played an extensive European tour that’s included a range of venues such as hotel lobbies and cultural arts centres, McHone says the Borderline is a space she can really get into, which is even more poignant given its impending closure.
Starting out with the tender restraint of ‘How ‘Bout It’ with crystal clear vocal intonation and minimal instrumental backing, the melancholy at the heart of its follow up, ‘Sad’, is leavened by its uptempo two stepping waltz, with some excellent accompanying lead guitar work . A highlight from the ‘Carousel’ album it cleverly depicts the personification of depression as her imagined partner: “One night I had myself a dream/That Sad and I, we played hide and seek..”
Despite possible appearances to the contrary, any suggestions that Carson McHone’s latest release is something of a misery memoir are unjustified. It’s more the case that as the lyrics to ‘Sad’ indicate, “there is no shadow without the light”. These heartfelt words speak more to the fundamental part of the human condition – of love and loss – than of sentimental overindulgence. Yes, tales of heartbreak feature during the show in the lively ‘Ain’t You Lucky (I Love Being Lonely)’ and the swing of ‘Maybe They’re Just Really Good Friends’ – Carson’s exercise in denial about being on the wrong end of a relationship – but there’s also plenty of tongue in cheek humour involved here. Cleverness isn’t just confined to her song writing but is also exhibited in the frequent tempo changes on these numbers. The all out rocking, full throttle rendition of ‘Good Time Daddy Blues’ contrasts well with the control shown on ‘Sweet Magnolia’ while the song ‘Dram Shop Gal’ has Carson drinking pre-song from a glass of red wine while the audience are eating out of the other.
Unrecorded new songs such as ‘Finger Nail Moon’ stand up well tonight alongside a self-lacerating Teddy Thompson cover with a lovely melody – ‘Down Low’ – “You’d be better off dead/With a bullet in your head/ Than to come back to me”, while another abusive relationship song ‘Drugs’ is dedicated to Loose head honcho, Tom Bridgewater, as thanks for his support rather any comment on his character.
‘Gentle’ is probably the evening highlight for this reviewer – “My broken heart won’t play gentle with my mind” is a lovely line in anyone’s money, especially when sung in three quarter time, and McHone closes with a solo performance of a new song that sounds like it’s going to be called ‘I Tried.’ The title sounds like a fitting coda for this performance. Carson McHone can’t be accused of resting on her laurels or settling for the cosy familiarity of her home town, Austin, but is instead staying faithful to her muse. All the while her unassuming demeanour shows she’s got both cowboy boots planted firmly on the ground. While the future may look bleak for music venues such as the Borderline there are surely sunnier vistas in store for Carson McHone.