Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Marley’s Ghost: “Travelin’ Shoes” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been enjoying Marley’s Ghost for a decade (the group has been around for more than thirty years), and am always excited when they put out a new album. Travelin’ Shoes, the group’s latest offering, is an excellent album of gospel tunes. Yes, it’s that wonderful country and folk variety of gospel. When I hear music like this, I almost wish I were a believer. Yeah, it’s that good. Of course, for me this music is about spirit and humanity and not religion, and so we can all take part in it, we can all appreciate it. There is a lot of joy to the music on this disc, and some excellent vocal work. The album was produced by Larry Campbell, who also produced the band’s 2016 release, The Woodstock Sessions, which also featured a bit of gospel.

This album gets off to a fantastic start with its title track, “Travelin’ Shoes.” I completely love this song, even before it kicks in. This version opens with the line “Death comes knocking on the hypocrite’s door,” rather than “the sinner’s door” or “my mother’s door,” and I can’t help but think of all those so-called religious people who support Donald Trump. Hypocrisy is a way of life for them now. And when the song kicks in, it becomes an absolute gem, a sort of bluegrass gospel tune. Then, when you think it can’t get any better, it goes into this glorious vocal section with strong gospel tones. And who is it I think of when they sing “Death comes knocking on the liar’s door”? They follow that with a cover of “Hear Jerusalem Moan,” the first lines delivered a cappella. It then becomes a groovy, joyful bluegrass number. Wonderful stuff! This album is a lot of fun. This track features more great vocal work, and I love that fiddle. There is also some nice stuff on keys. “You Can’t Stand Up Alone” begins a cappella too, and kicks in to become a joyful, wonderful, upbeat number.

As I mentioned, Larry Campbell produced this album. He also provides a composition, “Someday,” a song that was recorded by The Dixie Hummingbirds and included on that gospel group’s 2003 release, Diamond Jubilation. It’s a catchy, delightful song, and Marley’s Ghost does a really good job with it. That’s followed by a cover of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ “So Happy I’ll Be.” The vocals are so bloody good, and this tune makes me happy. This is music that reminds us of how good life actually is, how incredible it is to be here at all. I mean, seriously, it’s kind of crazy when you think about it, the odds of existing at all. It kind of makes it even less understandable that people can be such shits sometimes. We then get a cool rendition of “Shadrack,” featuring more impressive vocal work. The bass is at the heart of this one. They then give “Run Come See Jerusalem” a distinct island vibe, which works surprisingly well.

The album’s only original composition, “Judgment Day,” written by Dan Wheetman, begins a cappella. When it kicks in, it takes on a more rocking country sound and is a powerful number. “Take pity on a wounded heart/Forgive me if you can/And pray that when I leave this world/I will find my heart again.” That’s followed by “When Trouble’s In My Home,” which has more of a bluesy folk sound at the start. And when it kicks in, you might find yourself singing along. “Sometimes I have to cry when trouble’s in my home.” And like the blues, by singing out about our troubles, this song makes us feel a whole lot better about them. Seriously, this should lift you straight out of the current gloom. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I think Donald Trump and his racist cronies can be defeated by music. There is no way their soullessness could stand up to music like this. I feel that their skin would crack and their horrid bodies would dry up completely and blow away at the sound of this music.

“Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor” has a delightful classic country and western sound, a jazzy feel, and features some wonderful playing, particularly during the instrumental section. That’s followed by “A Beautiful Life.” “Life’s evening sun/Is sinking low/A few more days/And I must go.” Has an imminent death ever sounded so good? I mean, if death is like this, with this music playing, none of us will fear or despair our passing. The album then concludes with “Sweet Hour Of Prayer,” a mellower, slower tune, with yet more excellent vocal work. “In seasons of distress and grief/My soul has often found relief.” Amen.

CD Track List
  1. Travelin’ Shoes
  2. Hear Jerusalem Moan
  3. You Can’t Stand Up Alone
  4. Someday
  5. So Happy I’ll Be
  6. Shadrack
  7. Run Come See Jerusalem
  8. Judgment Day
  9. When Trouble’s In My Home
  10. Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor
  11. A Beautiful Life
  12. Sweet Hour Of Prayer
Travelin’ Shoes was released on February 8, 2019.

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