Midwest singer-songwriter Bob Frey’s new Ghost album is a sincerely whittled selection of whiskey-soaked and quite wonderful songs that bleed with Gothic folk campfire prayers. Bob has the emotional tightrope vocal delivery of the sadly late Bill Morrissey. That’s a huge idiosyncratic complement! And not only that, but to sort of quote playwright Arthur Miller, these are tunes to be whistled in any big-shot corporate elevator.
To get all literary (as I am often wont to do), after Biff Lowman in Death Of A Salesman is chastised for his “whistling in an elevator like a damned fool” (which is quite the faux pas in the business world!), he finally rejects his dad Willy’s American dream of commercial big-money success. He says, after yet another fanciful financial failure, “I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw – the sky. I saw the things I loved…And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in this office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”.
This album echoes that very same literary sentiment.
Quite appropriately, the first song, ‘A Restless Heart And A Troubled Mind’, begins with an electric burst of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse growl. But then the tune dips into a deep northern Wisconsin acoustic forest melody, while an eerie violin dances with a sweet melodic mandolin. Then an electric guitar tightens the tension – a tension that resolves its passion with a very human hope for ancient wisdom, which can sometimes be found on a small-town cemetery cryptic comment etched into a time-aged tombstone.
Yeah, the song is that good!
And ‘Paladin’ is also that good: It’s a simple concoction of vocals and acoustic guitar that bleeds with a thorn’s melody, and, as said, certainly conjures the deliberate enunciation of Bill Morrissey, and perhaps hits the brutal and brilliant honesty of a song by Jim Croce like ‘Lover’s Cross’.
The gossamer melodic web continues: The title tune, ‘Ghost’ certainly ventures into Gothic Americana, again with a violin singing to the wonder of any harvest moon. And the lyrics cast a mystical psychological couch confession into the sparks of that (before-mentioned) deep woods Wisconsin campfire prayer. Then, ‘Hard Luck Girl’ struts with a catchy melody and a sympathetic glance that condenses the pathos of Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets into a folk singer’s pulsating tune. And the up-beat strummed ‘Guillotine’ is urgent and has an almost demo-emotive quality that begs simple sanctuary like a song off that very first Jake Bugg record. Now, in all fairness, I should recuse myself, being the English setter dad of Willamena and Matilda; but let’s just say ‘I Wish I Was A Dog’ is a bit of clever canine loving speculative humour. It’s a welcome moment of levity. And Bob’s vocal catches the absolute “dry well desert rat” pathos of Tom Russell’s ‘Alkali’ in a song that would (almost) be an out take from Bob Martin’s brilliant 1972 RCA big-label Midwest Farm Disaster album, which is a lost classic folk record. Several big compliments, there.
The acoustic quietude of the insightful ‘Gig’ is a sepia photograph of a song that serves as a metaphor of grace for a lot of folks who simply work to be human in a corporate elevator environment without, sadly, a Biff Lowman whistle to be enjoyed. It’s a brilliant song that bleeds a passionate glance with a votive candle flickered flame.
There’s more folk wisdom: ‘Movin’ On’ is an intense song about lost love. But like all this music, it touches the depths of sad psychology that accepts the end of romance with no rainbow in sight. And ‘Runner’ ups the melodic pace with a sympathetic violin. And ‘Who’s -A Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone’ speculates on the frailty of the temporal and digs a deep eternal melody. Phil Ochs’ song ‘When I’m Gone’ sings a similar sentiment.
The album ends with an acoustic plucked hopeful ode to love. ‘One More Time’ is a song that somehow, matches the melody of all the stars in the sky. Great folk music conjures that magic.
Oh – there’s a bonus track ‘Little Mystery’, which is a quick-strummed harmonica puffed song that could have easily fit into the whistled context the album.
By the way, my favorite quote from Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman is “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit!” Robert Burns said the very same thing is his poem, ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That”. And Bob Frey, in this whittled selection of whiskey-soaked tunes, thankfully, sings a very similar song.
Artist’s website: https://www.bobfreymusic.com/
‘Ghost’ – official video: