If you saw We Banjo 3 at Aura earlier this year, back when concerts were still a thing, you might have wondered: Where is that low-end coming from? Quite clearly, there was a steady, bassy, four-on-the-floor beat in the song, but the people on stage were playing guitar, fiddle, and banjo, respectively.
Just what was that thumping beat you desperately wanted to clap along with?
Especially for some of the more traditional fans in the audience, the pedal-triggered pre-programmed sound was a little odd. Why not just get a bass player?
But We Banjo 3’s sound is popular, and right in line with where many string bands move as they grow and evolve, part of a larger trend that emphasizes low-end rhythm and ever-louder choruses and increased dynamics designed for music listened to in headphones via streaming services.
Certainly, the new Ghost of Paul Revere record, “Good at Losing Everything,” out this Friday, is emblematic of this type of evolution, including their very strong new single, “Love at Your Convenience.”
When first we heard from Ghost, 2012’s “North” or 2014’s “Believe,” they were purely string-band and led with immaculate vocal harmonies, building energy with heavy strums and moving into hollering for emphasis. By 2017’s “Monarch,” drums built their way in, but often fairly reserved. You can barely hear them and the emphasis is with the snare and high hat on hits like “Wild Child” and “Montreal.”
Now, not only does “Convenience” feature a heavier snare and thrumming toms, but there are piano and organ and electric guitar and a mandolin and it goes big. Big big. It is a soaring, loud singalong, the sort of thing that makes even people in happy relationships wish they could get into a bit of a fight just to live inside of a great line like, “my love ain’t here for your convenience,” and feel that hurt and indignation and passion.
Just the way Griffin Sherry’s chant moves from “I told you, I’m angry, and I ain’t coming back” in the open to “I’m sorry, I love you, but I ain’t coming back” in the finish writes a whole Hemingway short story for me.
Simply put, it’s a pretty great rock’n’roll song from guys who used to be called bluegrass. When you look at the top-streamed songs and the sea of R&B, hip-hop, and pure electronic pop that resides here, and then listen to the distorted vocals and nu-metal bombast of the new music most often now categorized as “rock,” it’s not surprising to see instrument- and vocal-focused groups moving into the vacuum that rock’s general demise has left behind. Nationally, Old Crow Medicine show did something similar. So did Shakey Graves. Houndsmouth lives there.
In Maine, it’s the same instinct that drives a band like Sons of Alfond, whose vocals twang and lyrics reference cowboy boots, but whose core instrumentation and mix is a driving rock’n’roll, where the guitar riffs owe as much to ’70s rock as anything that came out of Nashville or West Texas. Heck, look at the transition to rock that the banjo-heavy Toughcats’ Jacob Greenlaw made with his new The Jacob James project.
Yeah, he was the drummer, but his Toughcats kit featured a suitcase as a bass drum.
Not everything on “Good at Losing Everything” is a banger. “Dirigo,” fronted by Ghost’s Sean McCarthy, is more in line with the outsider country of Orville Peck, bringing the barrel-chested crooning of a George Jones into the contemporary era. “Travel On” almost sounds like it could be on a Lettuce record (or Rustic Overtones, for that matter), with a baritone sax bleating and big horns on the chorus: “Don’t look for me when I’m gone.” And the bouncing piano-chord stomp of “Two Hundred and Twenty Six Days” is just the kind of pop-rock we’ve for years heard coming from the various projects of Spencer Albee, who helped produce this new Ghost record (the bleed of songs into one another, as happened on traditional rock “albums” is his style as well, sometimes sounding anachronistic in this age of streaming tracks and playlists).
And there are quieter tracks, too, like “Diving Bell” and “Delirare,” which start out with vocals and single featured instruments, but they do seem to end up growing into loud tracks, full of things like cellos and organs, by their finish.
Ultimately, “Everything” is a lot like the recent Ray LaMontagne record, a throwback to album rock of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with cohesive themes of love and loss, but diving even deeper into the tradition, with varied songwriting and approaches from Sherry, McCarthy, and banjo player Max Davis – even interstitial semi-tracks for ambiance.
For long-time fans of the band, there may be some curiosity about all the new bells and whistles and the elevated volume levels, but it would be surprising if they didn’t ultimately find it highly enjoyable.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ghost of Paul Revere: "Love at Your Convenience"
2 Weeks, 5 Releases
While you’re staying at home, throw these new releases on the stereo or in the headphones:
• An Overnight Low, “Dover Thrift Edition.” The second single from the upcoming “Connolly, Part II,” it’s a traditional Brit-rock piece, a throwback to the Monkees era.
• Süpernørmål, “Mexican Plaid.” A trippy, skittering number in the Bristol-electronica mindset, with dreamy lead vocals from Rachel Somerville.
• Aron Paul Werman, “Watching Apples Grow.” Some seriously out-there New Wave, like the earliest Talking Heads. Come into it with open ears.
• Kevin O’Reilly, “Broken Septic Tanks.” George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers-style dirty rock with a nice little electric bass feature in the mid-section.
• Shang-High, “Straight Up.” A melancholy bit of indie-R&B, where you “take drugs to get through the night and act like it’s not getting old.”
— Sam Pfeifle