When Holy Ghost Tent Revival first emerged five years ago, the band’s rowdy, foot-stomping, banjo-driven sound received immediate comparisons to the Avett Brothers. But the five-piece outfit from Greensboro has never intended to follow the formula of their successful fellow North Carolina predecessors.
“The Avett Brothers paved the way to play traditional instruments in a punk rock kind of way,” says Holy Ghost founding member Stephen Murray. “A lot of bands have latched on to that genre, but at this point I don’t think it’s advantageous to categorize things that way. Our music is going in a new direction.”
Murray insists, though, that the group still delivers the raucous, energetic live shows that first attracted fans.
The band members met as students at Greensboro College, and began playing shows together five years ago. On the group’s latest full-length album, 2009’s “So Long I Screamed,” it’s easy to see what garnered the band their loyal grassroots following. With Murray plucking and pounding his banjo alongside additional main songwriter Matt Martin on electric guitar, the band pulses through raw, rootsy tunes, like the speakeasy- ready “Walking Over My Grave,” with time-tested themes of love and loss. Add in the brass blasts of Hank Widmer (trombone) and Charlie Humphrey (trumpet) and the band adeptly combines a rock edge with a vintage, hip-shaking Dixieland spirit.
But now the band’s musical vision is changing. Bassist and harmony vocalist Patrick Leslie recently left the group, forcing keyboardist Kevin Williams to pick up low-end duties and giving Holy Ghost a chance to explore new sonic territory.
“The initial sound had a much more Dixieland and Rag Time kind of feel,” says Murray. “Since we all have extremely different musical backgrounds and influences, it’s becoming a sound that has a wide mix of everything. I used to look for five adjectives to describe it, but now I just say we play rock ‘n’ roll. I like people to decide what we are on their own.”
During rare openings in a rigorous national touring schedule, the band is recording a new album at On Pop of the World Studios in Reidsville, N.C. Recent tracks posted online reveal a retro revival in the vein of the indie heroes of Dr. Dog. Murray has been taking inspiration from The Band and Van Morrison, and leading the evolving group on a path toward dusty mountain rock. He’s planning to release the new record this summer, so fans can come along for the ride.
“It’s important for us to get these new songs out soon, so fans can connect with them and feel like they are part of our growth,” he says. “We still play an extremely high-energy show, but we’re moving toward more ‘60s and ‘70s rock. The banjo is still a part of the show, but the sound has changed.”
Refuge for Athens Music Lovers
If you dig the bands coming out of Athens’ storied music scene, check out Southern Shelter (southernshelter.com), a website chock full of free downloads of live shows happening in the Georgia college town. From Of Montreal at the 40 Watt Club to the Drive-By Truckers at the Georgia Theater to newer acts like the Futurebirds at the Caledonia Lounge, the site offers the opportunity to get a pulse on the current state of a town that yielded the likes of R.E.M., the B-52’s, and Widespread Panic.
Allman Bears All
Last month Gregg Allman released a new autobiography, My Cross to Bear. In the memoir, the Allman Brothers Band keyboardist and founding member opens up about the seminal Southern rock band’s early years, including the crushing deaths of Allman’s brother, legendary guitarist Duane Allman, and bassist Berry Oakley, both in motorcycle accidents a year apart. In addition to his struggles with substance abuse and a rocky high-profile marriage to Cher, Allman also covers his youth growing up in the South and how he came to form the band’s signature expansive blues sound. In the end, Allman gets a new lease on life, as he discusses the life-saving liver transplant he received in 2010. allmanbrothersband.com