(GREATEST HISS RECORDS; 2014)
Hailing from the hinterlands of Central Florida (Deland, to be exact), Roadkill Ghost Choir play a swampy, down-home style of American rock ‘n’ roll akin to fellow Floridians Tom Petty and the venerable Lynyrd Skynyrd, with just a pinch of new country-pop sheen (perhaps to make it more accessible to a generation of consumers brought up on AMERICAN IDOL and THE VOICE). The Shepard brothers (singer Andrew, drummer Maxx and bassist Zach), alongside guitarist Stephen Garza and Kiffy Myers on pedal steel, are creating quite a stir with their live shows, as well as their debut album, IN TONGUES.
The album kicks off with “Slow Knife,” a jangly, stomping dose of country psychedelia with Myers’ haunting pedal steel moans weaving in and out of the vibrant noise. I must admit, however, that Andrew’s voice does take some getting used to in this setting; not that it’s bad… just not what I was expecting. “Hwy” is a hypnotic sort of track, featuring massive bass and drum from Zach and Maxx, unobtrusive but effective keyboards (electric piano from Garza, organ from guest Thayer Sarrano and some “horn” augmentation from Andrew), a perfect bit of banjo from Kiffy and great, atmospheric guitar from the tandem of Stephen and Andrew. Even though they have nothing in common, the song reminds me of Johnny Cash’s version of “(Ghost) Riders In the Sky.” Pounding drums and a fuzzed-out guitar propel “Down and Out,” with hints of NO DEPRESSION country and an abundance of Myers’ plaintive pedal steel adding fuel to the already raging fire; the last minute or so take a definite alt-rock swerve that is not unappealing. The song also features great vocals (yeah… Andrew’s voice does grow on you rather quickly) and guitar. “A Blow To the Head” is a spooky, slow grinder until the second half, when a tortured scream kicks it into a cool progressive rock thing. With lyrics like, “Stop moving towards that perfect sound/There’s blood in the mouths of American hounds/Stop moving, the sky will fall again/A blow to the head,” this is one of a hand full of truly spine-tingling tunes from the past year. Somewhere in the swirling gloom, Kevin Thomas guests on trumpet. The poppy psychedelia of “I Could See Everything,” featuring Andrew on synthesizer and acoustic guitar and Kiffy’s pedal steel, reminds me of the Beatles… if they had been fronted by Syd Barrett. The track is very short and very trippy.
Andrew’s beautiful dream-pop vocals and a throbbing bass highlight “No Enemy.” There’s a cool, fuzzed-out and crackly guitar that runs throughout the number and an uptick in the beats-per-minute that drives the final couple of minutes of the song. “Womb” is a sleepy, comfortable – dare I say – womb-like tune with some nice, understated piano (this time, Maxx and Andrew do the honors), some pretty pedal steel and trumpet (again, from Kevin Thomas) and some beautiful guitar washes. “Lazarus, You’ve Been Dreaming” features layered and echoey vocals, an odd drum signature, dreamy synthesizer passages and masterfully understated guitars (from Stephen, Andrew and James Nefferdorf). The tune continually threatens to break out with some wicked hard rock strokes, but is reined in right before the whole thing explodes. That combustible strain is palpable, making this one of the strongest numbers on the record. Clocking in at more than eight minutes, “Dead Friend” is even more languid and dream-inducing than the previous track. The song is highlighted by tribal drumming and psychedelic stabs of both electric piano (from Kiffy Myers) and guitar. The pedal steel and trumpet are soothing undercurrents, while the vocals are deeper in the mix and barely peeking out from the gauzy haze, adding to the waking-dream vibe of the piece. “See You Soon” has the gentle feel of one of those mid-’60s ballads from Small Faces or the Kinks. Andrew’s acoustic guitar has a certain ringing quality, while Kevin’s trumpet and Thayer Sarrano’s electric piano add nice touches. It’s a gentle lullaby and a nice way to end the album.
It’s kinda hard to believe that IN TONGUES is the band’s debut album; there are groups out there who have been at this whole rock and roll game for more years than these guys have been alive and have yet to release a record this well conceived and executed. Visit the band’s website, roadkillghostchoir.com, for tour dates and to order your copy of IN TONGUES; of course, you could always visit your local record store to pick one up, too.