Alt. country chanteuse, Carson McHone, returns with her second LP for Loose Records, Still Life. The songs were written between tours and recorded away from her native Texas, north of the border in Ontario with Canadian musician and songwriter, Daniel Romano. His strong work ethic helped McHone take her songs from shadowy vignettes and bring them into fully focused songs addressing relationships, life and growth. This is very much a record in the Loose stable wheelhouse but isn’t afraid to bring in alternative, heavier influences with swirling scuzzy guitars, sax and organs. Think Tom Petty meets The Velvet Underground at times.

Opener Hawk’s Don’t Lie is followed by recent single Still Life and both tracks set the scene for this collection of songs, which are delivered with both emotional clarity and raw power. McHone welcomes her listener in with her metaphorical stories of tempestuous love. The acoustic waltz of Fingernail Moon however, also demonstrates a multifaceted artist who is not simply about love and heartbreak but instead recognises her individuality in choosing who or what she opens her heart to. That’s not to say it’s not OK to admit when a love is unrequited or even shattered, such as on the aptly titled Someone Else on which McHone plainly states: “I can’t just hold you when I want you / and I want you now all the time.” Listen up also for the exquisite Trim the Rose.

McHone subscribes to a philosophy of openness in her songwriting, which is both striking and refreshing. However, there’s just enough wiggle room for the listener to ponder and perhaps either empathise or sympathise with the artist. The songs on Still Life deal in universal parts of the human condition with themes of rejection, mending wounded spirits and growing wiser with time (see Only Lovers and its wry comment on romance). While she is happy to admit her music is at times her own story, it is in parallel the listener’s too. Doesn’t everyone worry and rejoice over the highs and lows of existence? McHone’s skills is her recognition of this and being able to communicate in such beautiful tones, as on End of the World, “Foolish sentiment I have wasted my lament /oh my fingers leave no print.”

Here is an artist moving beyond the first couple of verses of her career and really starting to build in to a chorus of creative spark. McHone embraces her Texan country roots but she continues to mature in her songwriting by mixing strokes of trad. folk and rock (the stomping Folk Song is a highlight). Her songs are honest pictures of living and will demand repeat listening.