Country music has a long history of odes to hometowns and their simple joys, a trend that’s been dominant over the last few years as bro-country reached its cultural peak. In many cases, those songs envisioned only fond memories – friends and weekend activities that stretched on to infinity, without any morning-after hangovers or desire to leave it all behind.
“It’s easier to be big and edgy if you are telling a story of someone else,” says the Grammy-nominated songwriter.
Singer-songwriter Sean McConnell goes the extra mile with “Ghost Town,” a track from his 2016 self-titled album that gets at the sometimes conflicting tangle of memory around one’s origins. McConnell mostly grew up in Marietta, Georgia, but didn’t return often after he’d achieved success as songwriter and performer. On a more recent visit, he was struck by how he seemed to recognize no one after being gone so long. “I can’t tell if I want to build a shrine or just burn it to the ground,” he sings, listing the specific street names and locations of his many triumphs and defeats.
“It’s one of those moments where you’re driving around the town you grew up in and you haven’t been back in years,” says McConnell, whose songs have been recorded by Brothers Osborne and Tim McGraw, among others. “One street holds one memory and then the next street holds another – the good and bad of memories flooding back.”
In the “Ghost Town” video, McConnell sets up in a garage where a projector beams images on the wall. His performance is interspersed with grainy, antiqued footage of his hometown – residential streets, truck stops and churches that all have some significance in his narrative.
“Those are the actual streets and some of the places I talk about,” he says. “My buddy was home visiting for Christmas and so I asked him to get some footage of those streets to splice into the footage that we recorded here. It added a really emotional element to the video.”
Whatever positive and negative memories he associates with home, McConnell’s career as an in-demand songwriter and performer has kept him busy touring and recording for years. Amazingly, his latest album is the first one he’s ever released with the help of a label, aligning with roots powerhouse Rounder to build on his devoted grassroots following.
“Someone brought up the fact that this is my 10th record and I didn’t believe them until I went back and looked, and it was true,” he says. “And just that whole sustaining your touring, having something people can bring home from a show – that’s been part of what I’ve done almost since I started writing as a kid.”