Ghost Of Love

Jeremy Nail

Continental Song City, 2019

http://www.jeremynail.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/15/2020

The looming specter of death, the harsh reality of losing a leg, and the struggle to walk again: themes like these, addressed with bracing honesty and skill by a talented singer-songwriter, make for an intense listening experience. Jeremy Nail’s superb 2016 album My Mountain narrated the story of his battle with, and comeback from, an aggressive sarcoma that forced him to trade his left leg for a clean bill of health. It was an intense, powerful statement whose ripples and echoes were still felt widely in his mellower, more inwardly-focused 2018 follow-up Live Oak.

The question Nail inevitably faced after Live Oak was where to go from there. Do you keep mining that admittedly fertile ground, or do you set off in search of fresh new stories to tell? Nail takes the latter path on this yet more contemplative album, a collection of largely impressionistic songs about searching for connection and meaning, each evoking the wide open spaces waiting just outside Nail’s Austin, Texas home base.

Co-produced by Nail and drummer Pat Manske, Ghost Of Love’s prevailing vibe reflects its title: warm and unhurried, with deep melancholy rippling through it. Tempos and vocals are consistently gentle and soothing and the arrangements are mostly airy and uncluttered, making for an album that weaves its spell without ever raising its voice. And while he stays away from addressing the subject matter of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 My Mountain directly, this album does continue one theme from Nail’s previous work—the ache of loss and how it can haunt us afterwards. 

The opening title track sets the mood with resonant accordion from Bukka Allen and guest electric guitar from Jeremy Menking layered over Greg White’s bass and Nail’s evocative acoustic lead. A similar feel animates “Clarksville,” this time featuring Allen’s piano, little silvery electric notes and comforting harmony vocals from Bettysoo. “Nothing But A Song” goes bigger with atmospheric keys and resonant, reverbed electric guitar that reminds of the Friday Night Lights soundtrack by another Texas band, Explosions In The Sky. Like each of the opening trio, the lyrics feel indistinct but evocative: “For the sake of the scars we bear / Debts and paid and doubts are in repair…”

That wide-open-plains feeling continues with “Windmill,” a gently thrumming tune about searching for meaning and a sense of purpose: “A pale fire over sand and stone / I cut the wire and shake the dust from my bones / Pages turn into the great unknown / As I find my way on.” The search continues in “Paradise” as Nail moves “one step closer to the divine,” narrating what feels like it could be a moment’s happiness, a revelation of faith, a near death experience, or all of the above. Either way, the search for transcendence and meaning continues with the steady-picked “Angels Will Fall.”

The silvery, heavily reverbed electric guitar returns for “Broken,” narrating a moment when “In the first light of dawn / I fill my cup again / Rain will fall until it all sinks in / Some things ain’t meant to stay broken.” Allen’s gently chiming piano and rich accordion lend warmth to “Standing On The Beach” as Nail delivers what feels like this album’s topic sentence: “The road of life is like a dream / I close my eyes and breathe.” Closer “Second Wind” finds Nail picking up the tempo a bit, a bluesy midtempo call to action: “Through the hard times, another sun will rise / Lay your armor down, turn in your disguise / Living and dying beneath a changing sky / The river’s winding and the water is fine.”

Through tone, tempo and lyrics, Ghost Of Love conveys the sense of a man coming to terms with upheaval by crafting healing mantras for the soul. Beyond the echoey electric riffs of “Nothing But A Song,” nothing here could be called catchy, but the overall vibe this album conjures should resonate with any person who’s ever given serious thought to the meaning of it all. As its title suggests, Ghost Of Love feels both warm and haunted, a series of soothing contemplations that never raise their voice, yet resonate deep inside.

Rating: B

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