What is a ghost but a spirit or a vestige of what once was? In the case of National Ghost, however, it also refers to something that’s still alive. The Detroit jam group combines “ghosts” from various veteran local bands to create something that’s vital and new.
This eponymous debut scales new heights with a mixed bag of rock and pop styles that are at once unique but immediately recognizable. Americana, country, prog-rock, reggae, soul and numerous other genres blend a stew that features exquisite harmonies and excellent songwriting as core ingredients. It’s obvious after but one listen that the sum here is greater than the individual parts.
“Green Salamander” kicks off the disc with musical nods that might recall Steely Dan and CSN&Y. “King of the Thrill” follows with even more edged beats and eerie guitars. Other notable songs include the jazz-funk fusion of “Leavin’” (which blends some pseudo-reggae and “Give it to Me”-like J. Geils syncopation), the goofy childlike fun of “Ice Cream Head,” the almost incomprehensible Three Dog Night-meets-King Crimson blend of “Hollow Boy and the Candy Store,” the funky clavinet-driven ’70s classic rock vibe of “The Gist,” and the reverentially soulful “The Distance Between Us,” which resonates so much that the song should be the CD’s first single.
Former Robb Roy frontman Graham Strachan covers many of the leads on the band’s 14 songs here, occasionally sharing vocal duties with multi-instrumentalist Jamie Church, bassist Stew Preston and guitarist John Mabilia. Percussionist Randy Nelson rounds out the group, providing a serviceable anchor for that patchwork to thrive and proving that in some instances, “ghosts” — especially the Detroit variety — can create something that’s very much alive.