Ghost of Paul Revere: Believe

The Ghosts are coming

Get ready to Believe in Paul Revere

Ghost of Paul Revere don’t waste any time on Believe, their debut full-length. From the very first vocal notes on the opening “After Many Miles,” they announce that this is the best collection of harmonies since Tumbling Bones’ Schemes in the summer of 2012 [this published in 2014]. They are tasteful, measured, precise, and sometimes thrilling.

This opener serves as both introduction and a flag in the ground, as they rotate through each of the three main vocalists – Griffin Sherry, Max Davis, and Sean McCarthy – with a solo a capella verse (well, there’s a stomp-clap rhythm by way of accompaniment) and then come together for harmonied chorus: “Oh, lover, I’ll see you there/ Waiting in the willows with your auburn hair.” If that doesn’t catch you attention, don’t bother with the rest of the disc. This is what they do and who they are and they’re all in.

Because they’ve got a banjo player (Davis), Paul Revere have maybe been pegged as bluegrassy, or at least tied in with the stringband locals, like the Tricky Britches and North of Nashville they played with on New Year’s, but they’re often much more in line with bands like Head and the Heart, or Typhoon, which put a lot more emphasis on vocals, have less traditional song structures, and are often more rooted in the rock tradition.

“San Antone” starts slow with a repeating guitar run that stays low and then arcs up for the harmonics behind a chanted, “I lost my love in the heat of San Antone/ I found my love in the cold of the great white north.” Right. Pretty trad. But then the tune ramps right up at the 1:20 mark into what you think is the chorus on the first listen, but never actually slows down, like quick indie rock without plugging in.

This is also our first introduction to Matt Young’s harmonica, which here is really bassy and low down for a mouth harp. The repeating “whooah-whoah” vocal bit it introduces will have those who’ve tired of Of Monsters and Men and what some see as the shambolic trend in dirty-hippy bands to cringe, but it suits me just fine, and when they ratchet the pace up yet again, it’s pretty damn hot:

“I watched my lover roll me over like a riverstone … You’ve got pain in your bones/ You know you are not alone.”

They shake things up a bit later in the 11-song album, though. “The Storm” would fit nicely on a Mallett Brothers record, opening with an isolated banjo and dressed-up vocals, but then settling into a guitar strum and transitioning to a song with a piece of grass in its teeth.

Sure, they walk an anachronistic line like a lot of other stringbands, but when they sing “my father died in his house/ It’s all he left to me,” you really do imagine a house bleached out on the great plains, with waves of auburn grass and rolling hills and just maybe a solitary tree next to it with an old tire swing, and a fading white picket fence around the whole thing.

It’s most obvious here, too, how the harmonica is often playing the shuffling role usually taken up by the fiddle in this kind of band. But Paul Revere seem to revel in throwing curveballs, like the up-stroke rhythm they introduce late in this song, reggae-bluegrass for a few measures.

And “Fire in the Sky”? It’s basically a Sabbath tune played with acoustic instruments, fueled by Southern rock and stuff about how when the flood comes he’s going to make it out alive and that the devil can come and take him and whatnot. There just aren’t any big stacks of amps and the a capella finish might be outside Ozzie’s wheelhouse, but that harmonica brings the whole thing back to metal’s bluesy origins.

If there’s a misstep here, it’s “Hey Girl,” probably the closest thing to contemporary country at least in its material (every top-40 country tune seems to have the phrase “hey girl” in it) and very similar to early Old Crow Medicine Show, with Young playing the role of Ketch Secor’s fiddle mania. The repeated three-part build of “hey” could use some subtlety and the fever they work up falls a little flat.

But they certainly have the feel of “Funeral,” with a particularly melancholy tone in the banjo and pretty falsetto in the finish of the open. At times, the vocal arrangements are as delicate as any string parts Dave Noyes is writing for Rustic Overtones. And while the electric bass doesn’t quite work perfectly for “Woodman’s Stead,” it’s still a great change-up for the album, a quick waltz with Celtic undertones and a staunch determination: “I’m going to tear down your walls, until I have you all.”

The cowboy giddy-up of “Andra” makes for a wonderfully sad loner tune, pulling off the difficult task of being simple and working class without being condescending, and it’s mirrored by the appropriately closing “This Is the End,” which has some shades of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with Avett Brothers flavor.

Without question, this is an early contender for album of the year locally and if there’s any justice people will come to know this record far and wide.

Darien Brahms: Number 4

She’s all okay

Darien Brahms is better than ever on Number 4

With one of the longest continuous careers in Portland music, Darien Brahms has been many things to many people. She was my first real local-music crush when I moved here in 1999 [this review originally ran in 2008; image is from 2012], after I first saw her frontgal, lounge-jazz strip-tease act at the Skinny with the Munjoy Hill Society. I know I’m not the only one who’s been captivated by her as chanteuse.

She’s been pegged, too, as an alt-country diva or anti-war activist, but on her solo records she’s mostly been an old-school rocker, who loves her guitar and knows how to spin a chorus. So, five years after the spectacular Green Valentine, it should be no surprise Brahms leads Number 4 with the most down and dirty tune that’s been rumbling around in her head.

“Cream Machine” is maybe the best blues song I’ve heard since the last Black Keys record, a cycling and dirty riff supported by a Bayou rattle and panting breaths. Her promise that “I won’t be your cream machine” is deliciously profane; she even purrs like a jaguar. I’m a little bit frightened. Sneering slide guitar tells you, “don’t even bother baby … chocolate (grunt) cream/ Cinnamon steam/ I know you can be sweet to me, baby.” A throaty organ from Jack Vreeland enters for the bridge, by which point you ought to be completely enthralled.

Cartwright Thompson’s pedal steel (Brahms gets a fair amount of help on this record. Guess she plays a good host at her home studio) next provides the underpinning for a dark and lumbering menace of a song, “Shut up and Be Quiet.“ Here’s the first of some nice poetry on the record, too: “Coded whispers fill the room of my unfurnished body/ Secret message, a new voice you finally gave/ And it’s not just another vacant figure of speech.”

On “For Crying out Loud,” we get this gem: “Does she suffer from too much religion/ Or every former lover’s final decision?” Paul Chamberlain’s bass is high in the mix here and lyrical, but it’s not nearly his best contribution. He also served as the packaging designer, and I’ve got to say that the CD booklet that comes with Number 4’s jewel case is the best I’ve ever seen from a Portland band, and right up there with anything nationally or internationally. It’s like he graphically depicted every one of Brahms’s rough edges and toothy smiles.

There’s a fair amount of Brahms history, here, actually, including the soothing and sanguine “We’re All Okay,” with just Brahms on guitars and multiple vocal tracks, from 2001’s GFAC 207, Vol. 2. And I’ve got to assume the instrumental “Slide Song 1993” is what it says it is. Actually, with the tape hiss and metallic whine, it’s hard to tell it’s a guitar at some points; often it sounds more like a humpback whale’s mating call. In a good way.

I think the single here is “Sweet Little Darling,” which opens with a toy piano and Ginger Cote’s bass drum building in. Though she’s often aggressive or languid, Brahms here is in baby doll mode, a great ’60s rock pop take, with a cool electric guitar move in the chorus: “You’re my sweet little darling, sweet little darling, sweet little darling, yeah.” It’s delectable and irresistible, so pretty and electric in its appeal. Dave Noyes on the cello late is a great move forward, joining himself in the finish with the melodica, one instrument in each channel.

I guess after five years of work, it shouldn’t be surprising that the album is both dense and expertly organized, with a fun-with-samples take in the middle for disconcerting comic relief in “Kitty’s Trapped in the Well,” and a special “bonus track” you might remember from the last presidential season: “Too Late for Whitey.” There’s variety here in genre, but the nakedly raw emotion is just about universal.

In the Rolling Stones rocker “I’m So Afraid,” Brahms is as honest and bare as any kindergartener, a naked accounting of fears: “I’m so afraid of losing my job/ I’m so afraid of being robbed/ Being raped/ No escape/ Being bored/ And flipping out on the Doors/ Love me two times baby.” It’s compressed into a perfect 1:59 track that finishes with this admission: “I’m so afraid of God falling down … I’m shaking baby and it’s not from love/ It’s from fear.”

The horse whinny at the finish is strangely appropriate.

Even if Brahms was never really that Little Bundle of Sugar (2000), it’s never been hard to be sweet on her. Now she’s let us closer than ever before and she’s never seemed sweeter. Though maybe she’s a hard candy.

And she probably wants to punch me in the face for that “sweet” nonsense.