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Marley's Ghost taps Cowboy Jack Clement for new CD, 'Ghost Town'

Marley’s Ghost, cited by Paste magazine as “(having) earned cult-band status over 20 years of spirited musicianship, multi-part harmonies and irreverent humor,” will return from a three-year absence from recording with a new album, Ghost Town, due out February 23, 2010 on Sage Arts Records. The new album was produced by Cowboy Jack Clement, in whose Nashville home studio it was recorded. The cover was painted by acclaimed American watercolorist William Matthews.

The album follows Marley’s Ghost’s 2006 album Spooked, which was produced by Van Dyke Parks and featured a cover by R. Crumb. Of Spooked, Clement remarked, “The band’s eighth full-length in 20 years glides with deadpan sincerity through sea chanteys, perverted mountain gospel, country-rock, vintage pre-WWII pop, Jazz Age vamps, Dylan, western campfire songs, and a rib-tickling salute to ‘the French Elvis,’ Johnny Hallyday. Brilliantly sung and played, Spooked is a heady, subversive treat.”

The latest development in the band’s recording career may prove to be the crucial link for Marley’s Ghost. Clement, the country music cornerstone whose career entwined with those of Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and so many others, is the beloved dean of Nashville producers, and the presence of Marley’s Ghost in his studio earned the band its first Music Row buzz.

“Working with Jack is standing in the front door looking out into the world with the whole house of rock ’n’ roll and country music behind you,” says Marley’s Ghost bassist and singer Dan Wheetman. “Jack is steeped in the Sun Records ideals of music. The technical side is important but takes a backseat to the ‘bang,’ the performance with heart and energy.”

“It’s easy to think of Jack as the guy who wrote hits for Cash at Sun Records and recorded Charley Pride in the ’70s, but you know, he has a platinum album with U2,” he adds, referring to a portion of Rattle and Hum that Clement oversaw.

“Marley’s Ghost is very experienced, versatile and best of all, open-minded, and a fun bunch of guys,” says Clement. “I prefer to play with a great band rather than a bunch of great session players. And they are a great band. They understand that we are all in the fun business and if we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our jobs. And they can play just about anything they want to. Even polkas. I ain’t got ’em to do one yet, but I will.”

After more than 20 years of making music together— recording nine albums and performing thousands of shows around the country — Marley’s Ghost remains one of the best-kept secrets in the music world, an untapped natural resource waiting to be discovered.

“Our criteria,” says the band’s guitarist, Mike Phelan, “has always been: bring it, let’s run it. It’s not about genre or style.” This is one band that knows all the songs from both The Harder They Come soundtrack and Ralph Stanley’s Cry From the Cross. Or as Paste puts it, "a decidedly unusual band, as capable of reanimating Appalachian folk songs as they are traditional Celtic fare, honky tonk and reggae.”

The most important ingredients in the Marley’s Ghost musical brew are the characters in the band. The five multi-instrumentalists boast distinctive musical personalities that couldn’t be less alike.

Dan Wheetman is a veteran of the ’60s Simi Valley, Calif. teen rock group the Humane Society, and, as a member of ’70s country-rockers Liberty, toured for years with John Denver and Steve Martin. Jon Wilcox, mandolinist and vocalist, used to trudge around the country as a solo artist. Mike Phelan, like Wheetman and Wilcox a prolific songwriter, can tear your heart out with a soul tune, put a romantic lilt into an Irish folk tune or blast molten lead guitar licks through the heart of a blues. Innovative pedal steel guitarist Ed Littlefield, Jr., spent years performing C&W in rugged roadhouses for loggers across the Pacific Northwest, and plays a fierce fiddle and bagpipes. And Jerry Fletcher, the band’s secret weapon and unofficial fifth Ghost, became “certified” in 2006, bringing his eclectic music skills (drums, keys, accordion and vocal arranging) to bear full-time.

Together they are a unique amalgam of their respective backgrounds, personal proclivities and musical abilities — a blend honed to a seamless collaboration over the many miles they have traveled together down the road.

“I call it ’bang,’” says Clement in summation. “It’s got bang. The band’s got some bang to it.”

Landreth taps Clapton & Knopfler on new album

Sonny Landreth- for the Grateful Web

Louisiana-based singer/songwriter/slide-guitar monster Sonny Landreth will release his ninth album, titled From The Reach and his first on his own Landfall Records label (distributed by Ryko Distribution), on May 20. On it, Landreth does something unprecedented in his body of work as he collaborates with five of the greatest guitar players on the planet — Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson and Vince Gill — in some jaw-dropping performances. Also making appearances are the legendary New Orleans pianist and singer Dr. John and Margaritaville's iconic troubadour Jimmy Buffett.

"I've been wanting to make this kind of record for a long time —– to do an entire album that would feature some of my favorite players as special guests," says Landreth. "The other thing was how to do it without being yet another clichéd 'duets' album. Then I got the idea to write the songs specifically for each of the artists and that was the real hook for me, as a writer as well as a guitar player."

On the opener, "Blue Tarp Blues,' Sonny exchanges solos with Knopfler, and the aural contrast between Sonny's shimmering slide and the Dire Straits leader's biting Strat is a textural treat. Clapton appears to cut loose on "When I Still had You," adding his soulful voice to the choruses as well. Slowhand then wails on "Storm of Worry," a spooky slow blues reminiscent of his Bluesbreakers era.

"The Milky Way Home" is a powerful instrumental rocker that features Eric Johnson on delectably distorted guitar passages that morph into his trademark cello-like sound. "The Goin' On" shifts into a country-rock groove, with Vince Gill and Sonny alternating between guitar solos and lead vocals. Robben Ford brings his extraordinary tone and phrasing to "Way Past Long" and "Blue Angel" (the latter with Gill on backing vocals), as Landreth swaps his trusty Strat for a Les Paul. Each of these performances is an extraordinary showcase of brilliant players reacting to each other in supremely inspired fashion.

In one of two delightful changes of pace to the album's six-string focus, Dr. John brings the requisite gris-gris to "Howlin' Moon" with his trademark rollicking piano and harmonies, and he's joined on the track by Jimmy Buffett. "Although the idea of the record was playing with my guitar heroes, I wanted to open to the unexpected as well," Landreth explains. "I'd written 'Howlin' Moon' a long time ago and I'd always had Dr. John in mind for it. Then we took it a step further with Jimmy's vocal and the vibe was perfect."

As for the intriguing album title, "I thought about it a lot," he says. "One of the most interesting things to me in the songwriting process is letting it cook and bubble and see what comes up to the top. As I was writing these songs, the word 'reach' kept coming up and 'reach' is a pretty powerful word. Aside from the obvious meaning, it can refer to a body of water. And the water imagery kept coming throughout the writing of these songs as well, so it's like this is what came up out of this whole project for me. What would happen if I invited all these people: where would this take me. I literally reached out to them, and they graciously came on board. Then there was the impact locally of Katrina. So the title is the result of all of the above. It's coming from an honest place."

The same could be said of everything this one-of-a-kind artist has done in his single-minded career.

This spring and summer, Landreth will perform at the following festivals: Houston International Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Festival Internationale de Louisiana, Metro Fountain Blues Festival in San Jose, Tropical Heatwave in Tampa, Blues Brews and BBQ Festival in Charleston WV, Cisco Systems Blues Festival Ottawa, Montreal Jazz Festival. Belleville American Music Festival in Wisconsin, Calgary Folk Festival, Blues On The Green in Austin and the Chenango (NY) Blues Festival.