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Marley's Ghost still refuses to be defined

By Marley's Ghost

Sage Arts Records Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in March 2006.

Marley's Ghost isn't your typical country-western band, or even your typical old-timey traditionalist combo; in fact, they're more a band that plays a lot of traditional country-western among many other styles. This is a band of such virtuosity and confidence that on previous outings they've tackled everything from a cover of Jimmy Buffett's "A Pirate Looks at 40" to the blues to reggae and even traditional Celtic music.

But the country-western, both traditional and contemporary, predominates their recordings, including the latest offering from this veteran combo from the Pacific Northwest, "Spooked." Ranging from the old-timey Appalachian sound of "Sail Away, Ladies" to the drive-in theater ambience of "Cowboy Lullaby" to the folk-country of "Get Off the Track" to the modern Nashville appeal of "High Walls," there is no corner of country music that Marley's Ghost can't nail down.

Of course, this is not a band to be fenced in by something as prosaic as a musical label. "Spooked" definitely ranges beyond country music, from the straight-ahead testifyin' of "Old Time Religion" to the Celtic groove of "The Girlo with the Blue Dress On / Sally in the Garden" and the the swing jazz of "There's Religion in Rhythm" before closing out with an unlisted bagpipe serenade that works up a pack of coyotes into a howling frenzy.

What comes through all this stylistic egalitarianism is a pure love of music – from the members' mentioned virtuosity on everything from banjo, mandolin and guitar to trumpet and tuba (not to mention those bagpipes!) to their gorgeous thick-pile vocal harmonies.

Their lack of stylistic focus has undoubtedly helped keep Marley' Ghost from achieving the kind of mass popularity their talent deserves. But for those who are familiar with them, it's this musical ecumenism that is a huge part of their attraction.

After, there's nothing like going to a country-western concert and having an Irish jig break out.