13ghosts’ “Liar’s Melody” (This is American Music) A pure, to the bone, mesmerizing collection of roots rock
By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames
Even though my favorite song on this collection of ten incredible tunes can never be played on my radio show (thanks a lot FCC!), there is still plenty to go around. I’ll just go ahead and say it now. It’s getting close to that time of the year anyway. This motherfucker is going to be on my top 10 list, possibly the numero uno spot! Pardon my language but I’m listening to it right now and it so raucously good, I just can’t restrain myself!
This has happened a couple times this year, but not to the level 13ghosts’“Liar’s Melody” takes the listener. One of the many things I love about this record (and believe me there are many) is that it satisfies both of my favorite genre cravings, the roots country side and the hard core, rock they [13 ghosts] continuously expose us to. They are equally successful at whatever they are performing, be it rock or be it an alt-country ballad.
This maybe one of the best collection of tunes on one LP that I’ve heard since Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”, which could be considered somewhat ironic given the fact that 13ghosts hails from Birmingham, Alabama. Anyone aware of the history Mr. Young and Lynard Skynard shared with one another will know of what I am speaking. That is a topic for another day perhaps. However, I suspect the band was most likely strongly influenced by both to some degree.
13ghosts have their own inimitable sound, although the arrangements, the distorted, hard-driving guitars, the strong vocals, and then almost seamlessly switching to a soft bittersweet folk or country ballad will be reminiscent of Mr. Young.
The lyrics range from the sublimely perverse (Cocksucker) to a more transcendently rustic (Tractor Rut), while always maintaining their signature edginess regardless of the direction of the tune.
13ghosts consists of Brad Armstrong at the helm on lead vocals and guitar, Sammy Boggan on bass, A. Vernon as multi-instrumentalist, and Jason Lucia on drums.
The band recently came out of a self imposed hiatus. While disbanded, Armstrong remained finely tuned by recording an album (“Bottle of Garland Flies” for Skybucket Records). In addition, he united with the Dexateens while they were in the midst of a gruelingly tour over most of the U.S.
This all appears to have kept him in fine form when he returned to Alabama, reforming 13ghosts. In a relatively short period of timeThis is American Music was offering this ingeniously produced set of original tunes on their website, and get this, it is only five bucks! Currently, this is the only way you can posses a copy of“Liar’s Melody”. They do intend to release CD’s later on.
Friends, this is one hell of a record. ‘Rebel’ Rod says to get off your collective posteriors and obtain a copy of this incredible new collection of songs from 13ghosts. This is American Music at its best!
It’s been said that Lauderdale is at the forefront of the “revival” of the Muscle Shoals sound. Of course, we know the sound never faded but we’re excited to have a band like Lauderdale bringing it back to the limelight. “Stars Fell on Alabama,” from their 2011 release “Moving On,” pays homage to the jazz song from which the title was borrowed and fuses rock and jazz seamlessly. It’s as if the music history of The Shoals lives in every note.
The Making of Days of Echo by the Bohannons By Marty Bohannon
Session One Chicago is ten hours from Chattanooga, nine if you keep the pedal down and stay ever-vigilant. Rolling into the south side of Chicago late at night is a cold feeling for a southern boy: endless industrial high-rises, power lines, smoke, and rows of rail cars stacked two high, two wide. The tension mounts mile by mile. As the traffic grows more dense and the city scape spikes up, there is an erie feeling that Tennessee tags might blow my cover. One eye on the GPS, the other on the road, I get snaked into Little Puerto Rico.
Its October and well into winter here. We are five-tight in Mom’s SUV, late, and looking for our guy, keyboardist “Mr. Jimmy.” Big city block, big city block, scanning…right corner, wrong feeling. That couldn’t be him? That is him. Hobo clad “Mr. Jimmy” lays his keyboards across the backseat laps and squeezes into the front. We grab a 12-pack and a small bottle of bourbon and cruise into the warehouse district where we plan to run through the record at a borrowed rehearsal space.
On smoke breaks outside the warehouse some dumpster diving pays big dividends: six-foot by four-foot scene stills from The Godfather. They are beautiful. Chunked due to color correction. We fly through the rehearsal and start the hunt for food. Squirreled away in my back pocket is a cashier’s check for $1350— six weeks of hourly pay from bar-tending six days a week; the full balance of the session plus the cost of tape, my bro kicked in on that. In my front pocket is the gas budget. $140 to get home. Food is whatever we can trap.
Pizza. Like some miracle we drift into what seems to be the ultimate love luck situation. A family pizza restaurant themed in all things mob. I can hustle, but I’m no Mike—he’s done 19 tours of the country with various punk bands and knows how to exchange. Mike steps forward with the Godfather prints and unrolls one for the chef. He shakes his head. No deal. Yet. I’m sidelined, watching. Mike unrolls another. Stalemate. Brando captured. Marlon-style deal making. In pops the son. “I want that…Dad, I want that.” We walk with two large pizzas, enough calories to get us all through the next day.
We’re crashing at Al Banjo’s house, a mansion above a bike graveyard. I lay down on the hardwood and think about the record we are about to make. Is it sequenced right? Probably not. Is it the right tunes? Maybe. I suffer from recording anxiety, just like test anxiety. I go blank. “You’re rolling” sounding in my headphones has the same feeling for me as when an exam hits the desk. Nonetheless we are here, in Chicago.
We get buzzed in at Electrical Audio and are led into the B-Room. Amps are in place. We poke around and tune up. Our eyes keep drifting up to the 30-foot ceiling. Cool cool. Steve Albini appears, blue mechanics jumpsuit and coffee clutched.
“I’m Marty. This is my brother Matt.” “Hi, Marty. Hi, Matt”. “This is Josh. This is Adam and this is Mr. Jimmy.” “Hi.” “This is our buddy Mike.” “Hi, buddy Mike. Write down the name of the song, describe the mood of the song, and then list any additional instrumentation you would like to have on the song.” “You’re rolling” came quickly. “Aren’t we going to isolate these amps?” I ask Albini. ” “Why? You will all be playing the same songs right?”
Track by track. Up and down the stairs from the tracking room to the control room, listening. Agreeing. Disagreeing. Problem with my guitar. Signal decay. Albini comes down checks my connections. Still there. He comes back down and lifts the Tele from around my neck, throws it on a pool table, and begins to dismantle the input jack. He injects contact cleaner and hits it with a wire brush, reassembles it, and hangs it back over my neck. “You’re rolling.”
Good takes. Good bed tracks. The comfort level grows. Albini does a few Mike Tyson impersonations for us, and we are starting to feel ingratiated. We pick about the North and the South. Albini talks about the “presence looming overhead” where we are from. Can’t say I disagree with him. He doesn’t drink, hasn’t in 20 years, but admits he would like to gain some wine knowledge to abuse people with. We talk about baseball. We talk about Chicago and pianos and mastering. We don’t talk about politics anymore, but it’s lon the back of everyone’s mind. We are like most Southerners, a little proud and confident in numbers, but I never out myself as a bleeding-heart liberal. Those are things I don’t tell Northerners or most Southerners. And this was a time of flashpoint politics.
Session bogs down a bit. I become a bit miffed when I notice Albini has gone to get a stack of miscellaneous magazines to thumb through. I’m pissed. We are doing overdubs. He’s got one eye on what I think is Golf Digest and one eye on an oscilloscope. Watching wave form, improving his swing. I feel like I’m getting duped. I think he’s not even listening until he says, “on the last phrase there, one note gets pulled sharp a bit, and it’s your guitar, the E-string.” He is making my record and becoming a better golfer at the same time.
The session wraps at 1 am. All bed tracking complete. 7 songs. We get back to Al Banjo’s. The pizza is gone, but we are stoked. The ride back the next day is smoke breaks (no smoking in Mom’s Saturn) and grins. We got the sounds.
Session Two Fast forward through three months of bar-tending and hundred dollar guarantees. We are riding high. Had to cancel one session due to mid west winter storms. Next session is coming up. Had to borrow $1k from Josh. Van broke down. I have to call my mom and ask to use her car again. In doing so and feeling guilty, I ask her to ride with us. After all we have kin in Chicago. She could visit while we record. Not the ultimate rock-n-roll situation but ‘the session is the thing’ and at this point, we are so used to improvising. I don’t even wince at asking dear old Mom to help her boys make their record.
Stress compounding more stress. Lost in Gary, Indiana. Damn GPS. Gary was the murder capitol of the US. I don’t remember which year, but it might as well be this year. The locals have a sharp eye out for MJ house-hunters. What the hell am I doing here? Find a way out. No bullet holes. Didn’t get carjacked. Creep into the Pricelined hotel, the W Lake Michigan. A recurring theme in making this reord is how we seem to keep bouncing from dirt floors to swanky high rises but I missing Al Banjo’s house. Me and my bro sneak away. Find sports bar. “Where are you all from?” the waitress asks. “The woods,” I reply. “Kentucky?” “No, Tennessee”. “Oh.”
Me and my bro wonder out to the park and split a forty. It’s January. About a foot of snow on the ground. No one around. Lake Michigan is still. I get a text: “RIP Jay Reatard.” I think to myself, “well, there goes the last fucking wild Indian,” We drink to him.
I start to think about how cold and lonely north Indiana was a few hours earlier. Sunset into complete blackness in an hour. I had pulled over and ran to the edge of the road to take a leak. Eyes were unable to pull focus because of the dense darkness. I was in full white-line-hypnosis. I thought giant fucking bats were swooping on me. It was the whoosh of the gigantic blades of the wind-farm turbines. I ducked down sas to keep my head from being removed…
Next morning I drop mom off at Navy Pier. Relative’s under the weather. In the studio and session is going slow. Albini is an hour late. He had to take his cat to vet. Overdubs are good but my vocals aren’t feeling right. Albini says they sound ‘honest’ and I’m reassured. Albini also calls in a pedal steel player. We get awesome tracks directing the steel player with a pencil on a piece of scratch paper. I get worried about mom. Albini kids that there is a strict ‘no moms’ rule at the studio. I believe him at first. Hide beer cans and weed pipe. Will Albini mention any of his band names or album titles? Consider asking Albini not to mention any of his band names or album titles to my mom, but of course I don’t.
Mom snaps some pics around studio. We have been hiding something from her for better than two years, a track titled ‘Gramaw and Grampaw’. It’s about her parents we never knew and the contradicting stories we heard about them growing up. It would crush her. We drive back the next day, and I have to skip the track every time. Still not sold on my vocal performance.
Mixing Fast forward three months and it’s mix time. No money to get back to Chicago. Albini mails the tape, and we start searching the South for the right engineer and studio to mix. A friend interned at Blackbird in Nashville and turned us on to Vance Powell. He had won a grammy the previous year, so we figured there was no way. I emailed him and it just so happened he had a Neo-Tek console and a 24-track Studer at his Sputnik Sound studio. I took a second job waiting tables at lunch in Chattanooga. That’s not a fun place to be, but me and my bro scrapped our way to the $1k Vance would charge us to mix.
At Vance’s we are stalled waiting on a power supply for the Studer. Steve the Studer tech pulls up in a primer Mercury Tempo and a blown-out sock and pulls the missing part from his trunk. Vance sends us to lunch while he pulls up a mix. When we get back we are amazed at the sounds we are hearing. Vance took a few liberties which included adding tape echo to vocals thus saving my vocal tracks. He also bussed out some keys and made them more dirty and slowed a song tempo down. All the while Steve the Studer tech kept blowing our minds with Studer schematics and facts.
Vance is killer. He insiste we have a bite of his burrito and let us listen to a lot of the stuff he has done with Jack White and Third Man Records, a label dedicated to recording and distributing worldwide albums made by Nashville bands and musicians (that is a joke, unless you live in Nashville).
We drop the mix off to Drew Vandenberg at Chase Park in Athens for mastering. A few months later and we are off to the replicator, supplied with some wonderful album cover graphics by Zach Hobbs at Youngmonster. A theme I had kinda been kicking around for this EP was, “one day the semi truck will go the way of the buffalo.” Zac waved his wand over that. October saw a soft release, and we traveled the Southeast. Our original drummer Nick rejoined, and in the spring we signed to This Is American Music, where the album got the official release May 1.
Footnotes It takes us a long time to make a record. Days of Echo is what we thought was being said in a song by The Fixins. I thought it was awesome. Turns out he was singing “Daisy Shotgun.” We adapted Days of Echo from that. Special thanks to Mike for helping us and through the making of this record. We are currently recording two records: “Cult of the White Van” with David Barbe and Drew Vandenberg at Chase Park in Athens, GA, and a B-side deep cut collection yet untitled at Tiny Buzz in Chattanooga, TN with Mike Pack and Alex Norfleet. I have paid Josh back in full the $1k I borrowed from him. I may still owe Electrical Audio for the shipping charge of the tape…And a 12-pack of High Life. On April 11, 2011 Robert Plant ate at the restaurant where I bartend in Chattanooga. I slipped him a copy of ‘Days of Echo’. He has yet to comment publicly on the album.
True story: Waitzman warms up before each show by punching lesser drummers in the face. Keep that in mind next time you’re choosing bands for your Indie Rock Fantasy League. I also love that he chose to air drum to his own band’s “Peace Out,” a song that just so happens to appear on Long Time Listener First Time Caller. I’m sure most of the airdrum nerds were slapfighting each other over which Neil Peart song to use. Waitzman and his balls said, “F that.” By the way, is it just me or when you hear “Peace Out” do you wonder to yourself, “I have this strange feeling that tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak somewhere in this town. If so, and I’m just spitballin’ here, don’t you think it’s probably a good idea that I not be around?”