Dan McCarthy doesn’t own a TV. He grinds his coffee by hand. He plays ragtime at a local bar. He’s working on scoring silent films.
“I’m old-fashioned,” he told me.
I don’t know that I’d call him old-fashioned. But he is deliberate. The McCarthy Trenching band leader is thoughtful about how he spends his time and how he writes his music.
He takes time to craft songs, and he does it well.
New tune “Ogallala Aquifer” pays close attention to historical detail. Then there’s the tender “Christmas 1974,” a song that takes great pains to paint a vivid picture of the first Christmas McCarthy’s parents spent together, though he couldn’t know all the details.
Both of those songs come from the latest album by McCarthy and bandmate James Maakestad, “More Like It,” which they’ll celebrate with release shows this week.
“More Like It” is the band’s first album since 2012’s “Plays the Piano,” and while it has McCarthy’s signature storytelling songwriting (John Prine comes to mind), it has a slight change in musical direction.
Some of the songs are a couple of years old, but most were written around February. McCarthy took a break from playing piano to focus on guitar. He took a trip to California. He jotted down ideas in a notebook.
“It’s all about carving out time to focus,” he said.
That resulted in songs such as “Laguna Beach,” about someone walking through sunny Orange County and feeling way out of place.
McCarthy sings that his brother could pass off as a movie star. But him? He’d probably be mistaken for the gardener.
“I’m not really a beach guy,” McCarthy told me. He laughed.
It’s not all songs about feeling out of place or memories of the past.
“Mean Things on My Mind” stemmed from Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” and it’s a funny song. I laughed out loud at a dig about having the voice of a country singer.
He wanted it to be funny, and he’s glad it works.
“My shows have been really dreary songs with comedy bits in between,” he said. “It’s hard. When you’re able to do it like Prine, you have to have the wit and the timing and have everything fall into place.”
McCarthy’s songs have a craft and specificity, and he said they often stem from a phrase or idea that he can’t get out of his head. Then he writes and edits and writes more.
He called it the “continual battle.”
“I love it,” he said.
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Album release shows
McCarthy Trenching with Mike Semrad, Kerry Eddy & The Current Situation
When: 6 tonight
Where: Zoo Bar, 136 N. 14th St. in Lincoln
Info: zoobar.com or 402-435-8754
McCarthy Trenching with Bud Heavy & the High Lifes
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: O’Leaver’s Pub, 1322 S. Saddle Creek Road
Tickets: $5 at the door