Austin honky-tonk standout Carson McHone has honed her talents on the road

McHone’s songwriting reveals a wisdom about human nature beyond her years

Growing up in Texas as the daughter of a writer, Carson McHone naturally gravitated toward literate songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and then to writing songs of her own that earned admiration from local legends like Ray Wylie Hubbard. At 16 she talked her way into a regular gig playing Friday happy hours at Austin’s storied Hole in the Wall bar; later, after quitting college, she held down a weeknight residency at an East Austin honky-tonk co-owned by her parents. Those experiences schooled her in essential arts like how to vary a set, keep your guitar in tune, and reel customers in with a tears-in-their-beer melody before releasing them onto the dance floor with a happy shuffle beat. After issuing a self-titled EP in 2013, she released
her first full-length album in 2015, “Goodluck Man.”

Her new album “Carousel,” made with Spoon/Heartless Bastards producer Mike McCarthy, is an open reach for audiences beyond the Texas bars where she’s been entertaining two-steppers since her teen years. Roughly half of its 11 songs are reprised from “Goodluck Man,” albeit with more production polish and sparkling instrumentation (guitars, fiddle, harmonium, pedal steel, piano), complemented by newer material like honky-tonking single “Sad” and the Chris Brecht co-write “Drugs,” a staple of her live shows.

The angular Austinite’s songwriting is notable for its no-frills, metaphoric poetry and clear understanding of human nature. Toe-tappers like “Maybe They’re Just Really Good Friends” — a witty spin on classic cheating songs — are unmistakably country, though McHone’s twang is less obvious than before. McHone’s expressive voice, tonally between Kelly Willis and Patty Griffin, has responded to a steady performance schedule like a silk-wound steel string, her interpretive skills keenly honed since the more girlish warbling on “Goodluck Man.”

Now, giving voice to the humble “Dram Shop Gal,” she sounds less like she’s quoting her characters than walking in their world-weary shoes: “I don’t trust no man/ Who slicked back his hair/ Though he may be/ A millionaire/ He’s got sticky hands/ And too much time/ Leave me to wonder/ How he made that dime.”

Just returned from a UK tour, McHone brings those songs and more to McCabe’s on Friday night.

— Bliss Bowen

Carson McHone performs at 8 p.m. Friday (June 21) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $18 at (310) 828-4497 or mccabes.com.

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