Saturday, June 9, 2018

#336 : Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass

2018 – Ghost Town Blues Band

By Phillip Smith; June 9, 2018

Ghost Town Blues Band’s Backstage Pass is one of the best live albums I’ve heard all year.  With every listen, I fall head over heels for its long soulful jams heavily steeped in American blues and roots.  From the beloved city of Memphis, Tennessee, Ghost Town Blues Band is composed of lead vocalist/guitarist Matt Isbell, guitarist Taylor Orr, Suavo Jones on trombone, Kevin Houston on sax, Tim Stanek on the Hammond B3, piano and keys, bassist Matt Karner, and drummer Preston McEwen.  Produced by McEwen, Backstage Pass consists of nine splendid tracks recorded live at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis on July 29, 2017.

The album breaks out with a smashing cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”.  This sounds fabulous with slide guitar and horns.  I love the way they weave bits of “Norwegian Wood” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” into the fabric of the tune.   I will be sadly disappointed if this song does not make it on the next Fried Glass Onion compilation series (a tribute to the music of The Beatles, performed by Memphis bands).  They take on the Allman Brothers’ signature song “Whippin’ Post” with true justice and a truck load of responsibility, bestowing the listener with a beautiful and amazing sixteen minute jam.  Isbell’s guitar performance is stellar.  Their cover of George Porter Jr’s (The Meters) “I Get High” is a bouncy and funky treat loaded with contagious horn riffs and more head-turning guitar.  McEwen is a bodacious drummer, and keeps everything in check. 

“Shine”, drenched in that good ol’ Memphis soul greets the listener like an old friend whose face has not been seen in a long time.  The Stax sound is definitely represented here with the swirling organ and those cool little blasts of horns led by Isbell’s wonderful and gravelly vocals.  From their Dust to Dust album, GTBB revisits “One More Whiskey” a blues-soaked ode to drinking which Isbell tops with a tasty side of harmonica.  This is a fun tune indeed. 
I had the privilege of catching the band in Memphis earlier this spring at the Beale Street Music Festival.  With cigar box guitar in hand, stretching as high as Isbell could raise it, Jones proceeded to extend his trombone to its outer limits, to use the far-most edge as a guitar slide until that cigar box just plumb gave out.  After several attempts at reviving that guitar with no luck, Isbell put his own creation out of misery with a mighty rock-and-roll Pete Townsend style bashing.  They outshined every act I saw that day, and quite frankly, most of the other acts I saw that whole weekend.  They were truly amazing, as is this album.  It’s ridiculously good.


Ghost Town Blues Band live in Memphis, Tennessee at
Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival 2018
Photo by Phillip Smith

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