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The graceful ghost

AUDIOFILE - Val A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

This is definitely a trip worth reliving. Imagine tranquil scenes from horse-drawn wagons passing through vast fields of colorful wildflowers, just as 1800s America is coming out of its cocoon. This is an homage to those hardworking pioneer men and women who built the foundation of what we now envy as a great and powerful nation.

“The Graceful Ghost,” singer-songwriter Grey DeLisle’s debut vinyl album for Sugar Hill Records, is your only ticket to experience such a heavenly ride. Her voice — like that of a young Dolly Parton with a hint of Enya and the sweetness of Alison Krauss — will take you to a dreamland where voices seem to belong to angels. The music is that poignant and delicate. This vinyl record was released sometime in 2005, but has now suddenly begun enjoying huge demand among music lovers worldwide.

The album proves that old songs don’t necessarily have to be old. Grey wrote all but one of the songs for this generation’s fans of American traditional country music. But I’m sure the album will appeal even to those who have not taken that genre seriously.

With husband/producer/guitarist Murry Hammond (of Old 97s), stringed-instrument legend Marvin Etzioni and bassist Sheldon Gomberg, Grey crafts a hollow country soulful music that tugs at the heart.

Yes, Grey’s songs are old because they stir up that 1800s sound — autoharp and music box figure prominently in the acoustic, all-analogue home-recorded mix. The result is otherworldly and heavy at the same time. Grey, who does voices for TV cartoons, alternately sounds naïve, feminine and powerful in this anthology of ballads and lullabies.

In Tell Me True, Grey introduced a novelty by recording her voice reading a Civil War soldier’s love letter on a 1949 acetate recording machine. In Walking In A Line, Grey narrates a mother’s death with the sweet frailty of Dolly Parton-like moans, her voice like the soft wind caressing the grass, evoking not just a family’s grief but the poverty that consumes it. 

Grey’s album is sprinkled with sepia-toned characters roving through her ballads — an alabaster-shouldered temptress called the Jewel of Abilene; worn-out and grimy but loving sharecroppers (Sharecroppin’ Man); Confederate soldiers, and snoozing babies. They are as real as you and me, but as ethereal as a dream; they tell their stories with an old-fashioned elegance as Grey strums her autoharp with a small coterie of musicians with acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, a little vocal harmony, slivers of celesta and harmonium. Arrangements are simple. Genre is fluid: folk, country, gospel and parlor songs are combined. Production is appropriately less than immaculate, recorded on analogue tools right inside Grey’s living room.

The album brings out quiet but powerful emotions. Its austerity reminds us of an America which talks directly from the heart and without the spin. “The Graceful Ghost” sounds to us, in this day and age, almost antiquated, but it is nonetheless held fast by sincerity and creativity. Check it out.

* * *

For comments or questions, please e-mail me at [email protected] or at [email protected]. You can also visit www.wiredstate.com for quick answers to your audio concerns.

ALISON KRAUSS

BUT I

CIVIL WAR

DOLLY PARTON

GRACEFUL GHOST

GREY

JEWEL OF ABILENE

MARVIN ETZIONI

MURRY HAMMOND

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