Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Scott Kelly and The Road Home: The Forgiven Ghost in Me (2012)

Misery Loves Accompaniment

By now you already know I'm a big fan of the style that I call "dark Americana." I use that as an umbrella term for a vibe more than a particular genre, but it includes mostly folk, country, blues, and a little bit of rock. Neurot is a label that's been at the forefront of this sound, releasing solo albums from Neurosis legends Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, among others.

The Forgiven Ghost in Me is the latest of these offerings, and the third Scott Kelly solo full-length. This time around the artist is identified as Scott Kelly and The Road Home, referring to the presence of backing musicians. Which is not to say that prior album The Wake was only acoustic guitar and vocals, but all of them were handled by Kelly himself. Now there is help from others, and the difference is quite positive.

Until now I've held Kelly to be on a lower level from similar artists. His voice simply has less variation than that of Steve Von Till or Nate Hall, and as a result a full album of his work could become tiresome. But the additional musicians have brought him to the next level. It remains at its core a man on a stool with a six-string and mike, but better ornamented. The difference is of the same kind, but not quite as stark as, Johnny Cash's transition from American Recordings to Unchained.

The man and guitar could still perform these songs, and they would sound like any of his prior dark folk music. "In the Waking Hours" seems to be directly inspired by his cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Tecumseh Valley," and anything else could have appeared on The Wake. The mix is such that you can still feel the simple song, and forget about the accompaniment if you want. It works mainly on a subconscious level: Drums, keyboards, droning/twanging electric guitar, what sounds like saxophone, and quiet vocals from Josh Graham (not all in the same song).

The Forgiven Ghost in Me is the best solo work I've heard from Scott Kelly, and a marked improvement from The Wake. It's still not the record I'd use to initiate a newcomer to the sound, but I can firmly recommend it to existing fans.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

(Sadly, this live version doesn't capture the difference.)
Buy The Forgiven Ghost in Me


  1. This dark americana vibe you talk about is all over Eagle Twin's first record. I see you've got an advanced copy of their second. I can't wait to hear that sumabitch. I'd also say that same vibe exists in Harvey Milk's 'Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men'. Ever heard that one? My mouth salivates at the thought of that record.

    Clearly, the records I've mentioned do not fall under the category you've described, but I think if the pounding doom guitars were replaced with pounding acoustic guitars, you'd have a pretty good match.

  2. I'm still wrapping my head around the new Eagle Twin, so I don't want to say anything that I'm going to go back on later. I never did hear the first one, nor anything by Harvey Milk.

    I have definitely heard the vibe in metal releases, like Across Tundras, Panopticon, and Bloodiest. The latter two have released some of my favorite albums of the last few years.