11 songs – 48 minutes
Lewis Hamilton is a 19 year old from Scotland, but he has already released two solo albums before Ghost Train, as well as compiling and releasing a highly-regarded three volume series of Scottish Blues, Jock’s Juke Joint, which featured both Hamilton’s own songs and those of 50 other contemporary Scottish blues artists. He sings, he plays guitar, he writes the songs and he produces the music. If only all 19 year olds had a similar work ethic. And the good news is that all that work is paying off. Ghost Train is an impressive and enjoyable slice of traditional blues rock.
Despite (or perhaps as a direct result of) Hamilton’s relative youth, there is a distinctly retro feel to Ghost Train. Other than the modern production values, many of the songs could have come straight out of the 1970s or early 1980s. There is even a hint of disco in the funky guitars in “Trust In Me”. Primarily, however, from the opener “Lonesome and Blue” with its overdriven guitar riff around which the vocals fit, to the arpeggios of “By The Old Oak Tree”, this is guitar-driven blues-rock. The retro theme even extends to the cover art photographs, which depict Hamilton walking into an apparently deserted railway station with a guitar in his hand, and then sitting on the platform, presumably waiting for his Ghost Train to come in. In both photos, a cigarette dangles from his mouth, even though smoking in public places has been illegal in Scotland since 2006. Lyrically, Hamilton also demonstrates enthusiasm for all those things we are meant to frown on in the modern world, as titles such as “Cheap Cigars” and “Whiskey Boogie” might suggest.
Although Hamilton himself is the primary point of focus on the album, fine and supple support is provided by Nick Hamilton on bass and Ian (Santa) Wallace or Pete Rabjohns on drums. Rich Young also adds Hammond organ or keyboards on four songs. Lyndon Anderson adds harp on one song (“Whiskey Boogie”) and Bruce Michie adds trumpet and sax on “By The Old Oak Tree”.
The album was recorded and produced by Hamilton at Sawmill Cottage Studios in Auchterarder, Scotland and benefits from a warm sound quality. He is an impressive guitar player, switching from electric to acoustic to slide with equal dexterity and he turns in some beautifully melodic solos. He also has a warm, smoky singing voice, although as with many lead guitarists who also sing, the voice often takes second place to the guitar. There are definite hints at various points in the album of the influence of Stevie Ray Vaughan (on “Breaking Heart” especially), but Hamilton is also finding his own voice. The acoustic “Sunrise” is one of the highlights of the album, featuring a couple of over-dubbed acoustic guitars and providing perfect melodic support to Hamilton’s weary voice as he sings “Oh, alcohol, you caused it all. That don’t mean my feelings ain’t true. Oh, sleepless nights, I held you tight. Let me feel the way that I do. When I see the sunrise, don’t be surprised, if I show some pain, when you push me away, once again.” Equally impressive is the closer “Journey Home”, an acoustic instrumental with Hamilton accompanying his own melodic resonator guitar playing with a gently strummed acoustic rhythm.
Lewis Hamilton is clearly on an upwards trajectory. One of his previous albums, Gambling Machine won the Best Jazz/Blues Recording category at the 2012 Scottish New Music Awards, while “I Got To Know” from the same album won a preliminary nomination in the British Blues Awards song writing category. Ghost Train is another step in the right direction.
Expect Hamilton to go onto bigger things. He clearly has all the talent necessary. Let’s hope he gets the breaks too.