Jackie Greene: Giving Up The Ghost


Each of Jackie Greene’s albums, from 2002’s Gone Wanderin’ to 2006’s American Myth, has marked a definite progression for the young Californian and Giving Up The Ghost is no exception. His role in co-producing the sessions with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin (who also worked on Myth) raises his stature as a recording artist in line with his gifts as a musician and songwriter.

Just a minute into the second track “Animal” and the thought occurs that there may not be a better (or bigger) sounding album in  2008. Sounds billow from the speakers in an intricate weave of guitars, keyboards, vocals and judiciously placed horns, the likes of which exalt on “Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind.” As a synth bubbles to the surface in “Bike A Ball and Chain,” only to give way to the guttural honk of Berlin’s baritone sax on “Uphill Mountain,” the variety of arrangements accurately reflects the songwriter’s emotional range and intellectual acuity.

While the successive mid-tempo likes of “Prayer for Spanish Harlem” and “Downhearted” suggest this album is too one-colored for its own good, the rockin’ swagger of “Follow You” appears at just the right time. The barest whiff of harmonica undercuts a caustic vocal and jagged slide guitar there, while “Another Love Gone Bad” radiates pure charm as Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo’s accordion surrounds the soft harmony singing. Even tunes as deceptively simple as “I Don’t Live in a Dream” and “Shaken” provoke both the mind and the heart.

The cathartic conclusion, “Ghosts of Promised Lands.” exhibits the soulful undercurrent in Jackie’s best performances. Likewise, “When You Return” commences in a fairly conventional acoustic arrangement, only to morph indiscernibly into a crescendo of cascading electric guitars and a vocal chorale that recalls Abbey Road. The means by which the musicians transform this cut is a combination of skill and inspiration that recurs repeatedly throughout Giving Up the Ghost, making this entire recording a triumph for Jackie Greene.

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