12 tracks; 40 minutes
Memphis-based Ghost Town Blues Band came second at the 2014 IBCs and were also finalists in 2013. This is their third release and it’s a very strong disc with catchy tunes and horn arrangements. The band is led by Matt Isbell on guitar and lead vocals with Preston McEwen, drums and vocals, Alex Piazza, bass and vocals, Jeremy Powell, keys and vocals, Suavo Jones, trombone and Richie Hale, tenor sax. Memphis harp player Brandon Santini guests on two tracks and Vicki Loveland adds backing vocals. Matt wrote most of the material, two songs with old friend and collaborator Taylor Orr who also contributes one song by himself, with one song coming from Paula Smithart.
One of the strengths of this band is their ability to move from their Memphis roots (elements of soul and Mississippi Hill Country) to encompass a healthy dose of New Orleans swing. The best example of the latter is the pairing of “Mr Handy Man”, a short piece of NOLA horns dedicated to WC Handy and arranged by Alex Piazza which segues into “Hate To See Her Go”. “Mr Handy Man” is deliberately engineered to sound retro with crackly background at the start and some classic NO second line horns and drums; “Hate To See Her Go” is a rollicking piece of NO music that recalls Roomful Of Blues with features for both horn players and Matt’s guitar, as well the chorus about hating “to see her go but love it when she walks away”. The Memphis soul roots are most evident in “Seventeen” with its gorgeous horn arrangement and Matt’s gentle guitar accompaniment, a song about not growing up too fast.
Brandon Santini guests on harp and vocals on “Tip Of My Hat”, another NO inspired tune with great drumming from Preston, Brandon’s harp sounding almost like a horn chorus here and there are some amusingly risqué lyrics. “My Doggy” finds Brandon playing harp to accompany the howling of Matt’s dog: “He likes it when I play a little harp in D; I can hear him howlin’ now and he’s in the right key”. The horns provide a warmth and depth to the tune too, another winner.
Matt’s cigar box guitar (made from his grandmother’s silverware chest) features on the opening title track which starts with the sound of sweeping and digging before Matt sings about some of his family history and the tough road he has had to travel to get where he is. As the song develops the horns arrive to add their signature sounds to the track. The short “Dime In The Well” is a Mississippi Hill Country stomp with the cigar box again to the fore. “Dead Sea” is a slower tune with some fine horns and reflective lyrics: “I never broke your promise or kept a promise to myself”; here the cigar box provides the solo but in a completely different style to the other two tunes just mentioned. The slow blues “Nothin’ But Time” is yet another style explored with the full sounding Hammond underpinning Matt’s vocal and guitar.
The three remaining tracks further demonstrate the versatility of the band. The closer “Road Still Drives The Same Without You” is a slow country ballad which gives us the opportunity to consider Matt’s voice in an almost unaccompanied piece, gentle organ, bass and drums only on this track. Matt has a gruff voice but it works particularly well on such a sad tale of loss and regret as this one. Probably the closest the band gets to blues-rock is “Tied My Worries To A Stone” with its insistent electric guitar riff and heavy rhythm section: the horns add some good accents to the song and Matt takes the featured solo in fine fashion: Matt tells us that he “tied my worries to a stone, threw them in the Mississippi”. Proof that the band can boogie with the best of them is provided by the excellent “Big Shirley” with its rock and roll piano, blaring horns and entertaining lyrics about the central character: “She’s six feet tall, four feet wide, take a wrecking ball to keep her satisfied”!
This is an excellent and varied album which deserves a wide audience. With several stand-out tracks this one comes highly recommended.
EDITORS NOTE: Ghost Town Blues Band has been nominated for Best Blue Blues in the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards.