Review by Danny Hill
It seemed Halloween came about a week too early as I was handed an album to review following a chance meeting during a cold and dark night commuting from Manchester this week; a band known quite ominously as Ghost Trains.
Ghost Trains are vocalists and acoustic noodlers Tim Ellis and Elijah Wolfenheart, and according to their MySpace page the band - then minus guitarist Wolfenheart - were set to call it a day last year, but now they’re back with a new line-up and new material. The result is thus: two new songs, Where Lovers Die and Breathe Again, and more on the way, all recorded in Tim’s studio, Bad Apple, in Hanley.
Last year Ghost Trains recorded a 9 track album entitled Ghost Trains and Rollercoasters, which is one of the albums I have here. Considering their new direction of late the old material might seem somewhat redundant for a review, so excuse the epigrammatic.
The album opens with a few sinister arpeggios before bursting into fierce rhythm and Ellis’s macabre lyrics, which sets the tone for the entire record.
Listening to a folk record can be a dreary business when done wrong, its horizontally inclined acoustic ambience is not exactly a recipe for those looking for a pre-clubbing pick-me-up. However, what defines this album is its hybrid tendencies to infiltrate folk’s close-cousin genres of pop and soft-rock. Close your eyes, sit back and let the music do the rest. Whereas Terrible Man and Time doesn’t quite hit the stoned-majesty of the album’s opener Ease Your Mind, by the time Mocking Bird arrives at track 5 the album comes into its own, and probably my favourite off the collection. Shooting Star, opening with synths and heavy basslines, makes it even better.
Ellis’s vocals offer a distinctive range, coursing easily from soft to almost stadium-rock proportions. His wailing recalls Paul Draper to mind, and that can only be a good thing. In fact, with their lilting melodies and atmospherics, its macabre-dwelling lyrics and ambience, if you can imagine what Mansun’s Attack of the Grey Lantern would sound like if stripped down to its bare acoustic bones, therein lies the essence of Ghost Trains. If there's one thing about Mansun that made them great, though, it was their little idiosyncrasies, their ability to laugh at themselves and their subject matter. Maybe, just maybe, Ghost Trains take themselves a little too seriously?
Silent Whisper lowers the tone, however, dreary and slightly pretentious, and probably the worst track on the album. Lying Awake is only slightly better, but the album’s saving grace comes in the last track, Cool End To Summer; simplistically endearing, a subtle creature that will sonically creep its way into your consciousness.
At a hair over 35 minutes Ghost Trains and Rollercoasters is short and sweet, but not entirely filling. A small selection of party snacks for a cluster of friends perhaps. But all good things have to start somewhere, right? And this brings me back to Ghost Train’s recently recorded songs.
The new guy, Elijah Wolfenheart, is a concept all his own: not a bad songsmith himself, at all, and armed with picking skills to make Nick Drake blush. When two talents like these get together it can go other one or two ways. Luckily for Ghost Trains the musical marriage has worked out beautifully. Where Lovers Die, easily the pair’s best track, combine their skills exceptionally, from the melodious Simon and Garfunkel duelling to the harmonious singing. Ellis’s voice sounds even better for it, too. Breathe Again somehow demonstrates the same qualities but, quite cleverly, doesn’t fall into the same trap as sounding grudgingly similar to its predecessor, as a lot of the songs on the album do.
Both songs are available to listen to from their website and their MySpace pages. The duo, along with the band, are currently adding new tracks to their impressive couple. The album will be entitled When I Was Still Alive. If you fancy something a little different, a little calming, then I thoroughly recommend you pay them a visit.