REVIEW: Kristen Grainger & True North’s “Ghost Tattoo” is Wonderfully Performed


Kristen Grainger & True North – Ghost Tattoo

Whereas Alison Krauss has a gentle seductive lullaby tone, Oregon’s bluegrass stalwart Kristen Grainger & True North have rich voices. Ms. Grainger’s has authority, & the appeal of Alison mixed with Amy Grant.

The mandolin sweet “Keep the River on Your Right,” illuminates with the dynamic musicianship of True North (Dan Wetzel (octave mandolin/guitar/backing vocal), Martin Stevens (mandolin/octave mandolin/fiddle/vocals), Josh Adkins (acoustic bass/vocals) & guests: Cameron Elmore (bowed bass) & Dale Adkins (banjo/guitar).

The 12-tracks on Ghost Tattoo (drops June 19 – Independent) are well-written, wonderfully performed & with good well-intentioned messages.

There are clever lyrics & some subjects are worthy of exploration & indeed important. But as many folk songs do, they offer issues with no solutions. But the band never sounds angry or controversial.

Some issues don’t really exist as implied: we need strong women. There have always been strong women. Women built planes during WWII, drove jeeps, were pilots. Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, & Lucille Ball was a studio owner.

Fortunately, there’s little bellyaching on the LP.

The group was careful not to produce a woe-is-me, weepy, everything sucks in this country CD. It’s tough to maintain melodic beauty & underline issues with no easy answers. It alienates part of an audience. Bob Dylan knew this. He abandoned protest music to the chagrin of Joan Baez, Phil Ochs & Pete Seeger.

“Tattooed Love Song,” is wonderful.

The LP touches on abused women, explores border issues, compliments women in power, although in places it shows a lack of deep political homework. The admiration obviously comes from the surface, emotion — not the depths. But the band doesn’t name-drop.

I’m not mentioning names. I won’t make this fine musical LP which does contain excellent music, a target of any political barb except to alert the listener. My issue is subject matter (not tunes/performances).

Kristen cited Neil Young encouraging writers to speak out against the American government’s abuses at the border. I know several people working on the border. They do extraordinary acts of kindness each day. But don’t sing about that.

Neil Young can afford to lose part of his audience (& has). But independent artists? Be careful.

“Wishes & Dreams,” & “She Flies with Her Own Wings,” are beautiful. “Fine Young Companion,” is excellent. Sung by Dan with a mournful Martin Stevens fiddle. The music is good — there are more diamonds than coal.

The 43-minute LP produced by Kristen & True North.



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