With the conclusion of Ghostland at Thompson’s Point this past weekend, the Americana-fueled The Ghost of Paul Revere has done something just about unheard of in Maine music history: Gone out on top.
Certainly not since Rustic Overtones’ banged-out break-up show at the State Theatre in 2002 has a band in Maine left such a substantial fanbase wanting more.
But Rustic may never have been this popular. Nor did Rustic take the opportunity of their goodbye show to release a brand-new surprise full-length album.
But that’s just what Ghost has done, with “Goodbye,” a 12-song piece that ends with an electric-guitar-fueled title track where bassist Sean McCarthy lets us know, “I’ll walk away so that you don’t have to say, ‘Goodbye’.” They’re really leaning into it.
“Don’t you worry about me,” though, they assure us with a trademarked rising harmony, “I’m doing fine.” Which only sounds a little like protesting too much.
In a couple of listens of the album (it dropped on Friday morning, Sept. 2), I can say it’s a subdued affair, full of stories of love and loss, where it’s clear they’re still not done playing with genre, moving from Eagles references to folk and bluegrass traditions to blues and country – even some studio gimmickry from time to time.
As you digest this new work, don’t forget to take some time to review the decade-plus career that got them to this point. Here are five songs that have helped to build the oeuvre that makes their retirement sting so much:
• “San Antone” — There’s a good reason they decided to rerecord this song after “North” and slot it second on their debut full-length, “Believe”: It’s damn good. This treatment does an even better job of emphasizing its dynamics, from the quiet of the opening acoustic guitar to the soaring harmonies of the rising vocals. And by the finish it is absolutely raging, a driving blues rocker, pushed forward by Sean McCarthy’s bass. “You’ve got pain in your bones,” indeed.
• “Ballad of the 20th Maine” — While this was carved into the very annals of Maine when it was made the state’s official ballad in 2019 (yes, really), it was initially released in 2015 on the first of three “Field Notes” albums, which are generally collections of covers, live takes, and odds and ends. The story-form song follows Andrew Tozier, a son of Litchfield, who signed up “when Lincoln called the banners” to fight in the Union Army, became a hero at the Battle of Little Round Top, and then became a pet project of Gov. Joshua Chamberlain after serving a few years doing hard labor at the state prison. (That last part, however, isn’t in the ballad.)
• “Montreal” — It’s possible “Wild Child” is the bigger hit from “Monarch,” the album that cemented Ghost as a big deal, but the anguished questioning of “are we growing apart or are we growing up?” is just so full of pathos that it’s irresistible. And the mix of instruments here, from light snare to rolling banjo to whining harmonica, is in the same delicate balance as the protagonist’s psyche.
I remember hearing this song and just knowing, “Oh, this band is just going to be on the radio forever now.”
• “Love at Your Convenience” — Released during the pandemic, this song and the whole “Good at Losing Everything” album probably didn’t get the attention it deserved, since people were, uh, preoccupied. But it’s so, so good. A passionate refusal to be taken advantage of and a declaration of independence, it’s full of floor toms and piano that you might not associate with the band. But this was a natural evolution into a band ready to tour big stages with a big band (this last tour featured six people on stage, most of the time) and really get the crowd’s blood up. Alas, COVID-19 kiboshed all kinds of big plans, leaving Ghost and many other bands with their careers muted.
Who knows what might have happened had the world gone on largely as it was? Maybe they’d be gearing up for a tour of Japan right now. Maybe one last Ghostland would have been the end anyway. Life on the road isn’t for everyone and there’s really no way to make a living as a musician without touring, which doesn’t lend itself to starting a family and settling down.
But it is hard not to wonder what might have been and what songs and performances we have been denied.
Until we meet again, The Ghost of Paul Revere. Until we meet again.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Jesse the Tree (with Myles Bullen and Roz Raskin), “Blue Dream” — A classic personal narrative, this takes us through Jesse’s family history in straight rap, with a dreamy chorus from Roz and a nostalgic hit from Myles: “Don’t believe in God, but I believe in music.”
• Brad Terry and Joachim Mencel, “Django” — Just after my Aug. 24 piece was published, Terry posted another, oh, six or seven albums’ worth of material. This song from a session recorded in Krakow, 1994, is so thoughtful and textured. What a pleasure.
• Stucco, “Golden Years” — A live recording at Portland Lobster Co. last summer, this whole album is full of great covers by some recognizable Portland locals having a bit of fun with the tourists. Even attempting this song gets big points.
• Sceptre of the Fading Dawn, “Visions of the Twilight Lands” — The band is from Sydney, Australia, but the label, Out of Season, which specializes in doom synth like this, is based in Maine, so here we are. Soothing in a Game of Thrones kind of way.
• Nizzy Rugez Hype, “Cobweb” — Some outsider rap from the artist known as Penguin, playing the role of Nizzy Hype. Is it ironic? A costume? On the level? It’s hard to tell, but it’s weird as hell and I like it.
— Sam Pfeifle