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Marley's Ghost Taps Van Dyke Parks


11/17/05
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(conqueroo) Since forming 20 years ago, Marley’s Ghost has built a singular reputation among discerning roots-music lovers for its ultra-tight four-part harmonies, instrumental virtuosity and animated live performances. On Spooked, the band’s eighth album, yet its first to receive a full-fledged national release (on Sage Arts Records through Ryko Distribution), Marley’s Ghost creates a musically sophisticated, thematically rich piece of work that serves as a belated coming-out party for a band that deserves to be more widely heard.

The album, slated for release February 21, 2006, bears the stamp of two legendary figures whose idiosyncratic skills match up beautifully with the band’s own — composer/arranger/player Van Dyke Parks, who jumped at the chance to produce, and cartoonist R. Crumb, who illustrated the package.

According to Van Dyke Parks, “I simply tried to strengthen the group’s conviction. For example, I insisted they do things to bring enunciation to the parts they played. We’d double guitar parts using techniques I’d learned from people like Brian Wilson. I dragged these guys through the production mud. I’ve never worked harder or had more fun on a record.”

For the album, recorded at the Sage Arts Studio on the rustic banks on “an unpronounceable river” in Washington state, Parks brought in such renowned players as guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Don Heffington to complement the core band on select tracks. With the goal of delivering an album “that will have some degree of permanence,” Parks became an auxiliary band-member himself, playing piano, Hammond B-3 organ, marimba and chimes. “I got to be the fifth wheel and enjoyed it immensely,” he says.

One of the reference points for Spooked was Ry Cooder’s self-titled 1970 debut, which Parks arranged and co-produced. Another was The Band’s 1968 landmark, Music From Big Pink. The album contains 12 originals that range from such deftly witty and satirical compositions as “Get Off the Track,” “Last Words,” “There’s Religion in Rhythm” and “The Ballad of Johnny Hallyday” to touches of stone country (“High Walls”), white gospel (“”Last Words,” “Old Time Religion”) and the Stephen Foster-steeped “Love, Not Reason.” The band also covers Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” and the Civil War-era “Sail Away, Ladies,” which salutes the album’s closing track, “Seaman’s Hymn.”

The front cover, illustrated by R. Crumb, depicts a decidedly “spooked” Marley’s Ghost. The back cover depicts the same band spellbound and transformed, smiling upwards at an intertwined mermaid and devil. Marley’s Ghost member Dan Wheetman used to be in Crumb’s Cheap Suit Serenaders. Crumb is a fan of Marley's
Ghost’s music.

Marley’s Ghost is comprised of Dan Wheetman (vocals, bass, rhythm guitar, fiddle, harmonica, banjo, Dobro and lap steel), Jon Wilcox (vocals, mandolin, rhythm guitar, guitar, bouzouki), Mike Phelan (vocals, lead guitar, fiddle, Dobro, bass and lap steel) and Ed Littlefield Jr. (vocals, pedal steel guitar, Highland bagpipes, keyboards, mandolin, Dobro and lead guitar). They make their homes along the West Coast variously between Northern California and Washington state.

The band will embark on a U.S. tour in spring 2006 to help spread Spooked across the nation.

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