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Music Review: Marley’s Ghost – Jubilee

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Marley’s Ghost is celebrating its silver anniversary. Multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Dan Wheetman, Jon Wilcox, Mike Phelan, Ed Littlefield Jr. and Jerry Fletcher have traveled a lot of miles and spent a lot of time in the studio during the past 25 years. In celebration of their milestone, they have issued their tenth album, Jubilee.

Before you even pull the CD from its holder, you can’t help but be attracted to one of the better album covers in recent memory. Taken from an acrylic painting by Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-1975, it is titled The Sources Of Country Music and was commissioned by the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville. It makes one wish for the old style, large size, regular album cover as it has a depth to it that is fascinating. It was the last painting of Benton’s career as he died in his studio at its completion, thus it was never signed.

It is a representative picture for Marley’s Ghost as their sound is a virtual country music history lesson. It runs from America roots music, to classic country complete with fiddles and pedal steel guitars, to a southern bluegrass style. Their material runs the gamut from songs of beauty with melodies that will make you ache to party-type hoedown music.

They have gathered a stellar cast of guest musicians to assist them. Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Marty Stuart, The Old Crow Medicine Show, and others are perfect fits for their music.

The tracks contain both covers and original compositions. “This Old Road” (composed by Kris Kristofferson), “Growin’ Trade” (Levon Helm), “It’s All Over Now” (Bobby & Shirley Womack), “Hank and Audrey” (Katy Moffatt & Tom Russell), “Unwed Fathers” (John Prine), “If I Were A Bluebird” (Butch Hancock), and “She Made Me Lose My Blues” (Paul Siebel) are interpreted with twists and turns that take the songs in new directions. “It’s All Over Now” is transferred from its soul/rock roots into an up-beat country anthem that will make you want to dance along. “Growin’ Trade” would have fit in with any of The Band’s albums. “Unwed Fathers,” with Emmylou Harris sharing the lead vocals, has lyrics with a little bite that sometimes get lost in the simple melodies.

Three Dan Wheetman originals begin the album and set the tone for what will follow. Tight and soaring harmonies, expert musicianship, lyrics that tell stories, and an underlying beauty all combine to make their music memorable.

With each album, Marley’s Ghost has moved in different directions as they continue to master all forms of country and roots music. While Jubilee is the celebration of a milestone in their career, hopefully there will be many more to come.

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