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Ghost Town Blues Band: Shine
by George Graham
(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/6/2019)
Jam bands come in various stylistic configurations, from bluegrass-influenced to more jazzy and virtuosic, to rock bands that are more limited in their scope but just play a long time. Improvisational rock bands like that have always been around, especially since the Woodstock days, and then there was a kind of renaissance during the 1990 with the rise of groups like Phish and The String Cheese Incident. One of the bands that continued being an iconic jam band over the decades was the Allman Brothers Band, who came to epitomize Southern Rock, with a good helping of the blues, especially with slide guitar style, and maybe a hint of country here and there.
This week we have another worthy Southern-style jam band who have just released their fifth album. The group is called Ghost Town Blues Band and their new recording is named Shine. Ghost Town Blues Band is from Memphis, and have been together for some ten years. They have very much absorbed the Memphis soul style, complete with horns, which is not that common among jam bands, and there is plenty of blues influence in their music.
Ghost Town Blues Band’s front man and principal songwriter is Matt Isbell, who often plays a guitar made from a cigar box, and uses the slide guitar liberally. He has a somewhat edgy voice a bit reminiscent of Greg Allman. The songwriting credits are also shared with Taylor Orr, the other guitarist and vocalist in the seven-piece band. The two horn players who are a constant presence in the group’s sound are trombonist and occasional trumpet player Suavo Jones, and Kevin Houston who is the sax player. Rounding out the group are keyboard man Cedric Taylor, bassist Matt Karner and drummer Andrew McNeill.
Although Ghost Town Blues Band are primarily a live group -- and they put out a previous live album called Backstage Pass -- the new release is a studio recording, but it still maintains the live feel of the band. It’s a generous record at 54 minutes with 12 tracks, so there are a couple of opportunities for the band to stretch out for some instrumental jamming. The songs are fairly typical of Southern rock in terms of their lyrics – nothing very profound or incisive, but some love songs and general observations on the state of things. The musicianship is first-rate without being very showy. The horns are a distinctive touch for Southern style rock, but are an integral part of Memphis-style soul which is another of the band’s biggest influences.
Opening is a piece called Running Out of Time which epitomizes the band’s mixture of Allman Brother style Southern rock with Memphis soul influence. <<>>
One of the bluesier songs is Soda Pop which imparts some suggestiveness to a can of soft drink. The band turns things up a couple of notches, and Isbell’s slide guitar work is prominent. <<>>
The group goes all-out-Memphis soul on the album’s title track Shine. It’s a definite highlight of the album. <<>>
The recording’s longest track is Givin’ It All Away on which Ghost Town Blues Band shows their jam band credibility, though also with a strong hint of the classic soul music of their hometown Memphis. <<>> Interestingly, the band member who gets the big extended solo is trombonist Suavo Jones. <<>>
Another strongly bluesy tune is one called Dirty. <<>> But the band throws in a curve with a rap section. <<>>
A further highlight of the album is Carry Me Home a slower tune dripping with soul influence, very tastefully performed. <<>>
The album ends with a largely acoustic track Hey There Lucinda a song apparently written to a child separated from her father. It shows another facet of the band which they handle with aplomb. <<>>
Shine the new album by the Memphis-based Ghost Town Blues Band, is a great record that combines classic Southern-style rock in the tradition of the Allman Brothers Band, with the influence of the soul scene of their hometown. It’s an appealing blend with the bluesy slide guitar in the company of the prominent horn arrangements. As a studio album with 12 songs, there are not many opportunities for the band to stretch out on a jam, but the improvisational spirit permeates their music, and they show that they have absorbed the traditions.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. It’s not really an audiophile recording, but the mix is commendably clean and dynamic range is decent for this kind of music.
By all reports, Ghost Town Blues Band is best live, but this new studio album from them captures the spirit of the classic influences that the band brings together, and it can make for a great party record.
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