Louisville's “Delightfully menacing” (Baeble Music) Chief Ghoul is back with the announcement of his forthcoming sixth album, These Lycanthropic Blues, due out June 4, 2021. Aptly named first single, "Let's Go," is now streaming everywhere and kicks off the journey of the upcoming LP. With its upbeat tempo and darkly poetic lyrics, it's clear that Lee Miles is returning to the spirit that previously landed him on the cover of Performer Magazine, where he was quoted saying, "When you get discouraged, use it and don’t let it defeat you. Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point where you don’t do anything at all.” Pain is one hell of a motivator and Miles haunts with purpose and raw power, using elements of alt-country, folk, rock and blues to craft a sound that is "a truly special sound," according to Performer Magazine.
Music as therapy has always been an underlying theme of Miles' songwriting, and the autonomy of self-producing has made the sound of the record even more personal, vulnerable and true to his old-soul. Guitar-playing has been an impulse and necessity when times are tough, and it's obvious that his guitar playing up levels with every release -- hinting that life doesn't get easier, but the therapy is working. A gut instinct to connect to the deeper parts of his subconscious come through the strings and the wildness of the sound, and the new single is just a starting point for where the album is leading. A deeper, darker path lays ahead, but the catharsis builds along with the blackness. The intimacy of getting to know what plagues Miles deepens to the bond, and although he always says he makes this music for himself -- it's hard not to feel connected and relate. With that raw energy, "Let's Go" opens the path forward and leads toward These Lycanthropic Blues' release.
Lee Miles is an old-soul troubadour with the ear of bygone bluesmen and the pen of a poet. His sixth album as alter ego Chief Ghoul, These Lycanthropic Blues, melds years of wandering the wildlands of his native Kentucky with an extended immersion in Chicago’s gritty blues scene.
Released on June 4, These Lycanthropic Blues is an utterly authentic breath of nostalgic, intriguingly arcane Americana.
“I’ve always been obsessed with music, and it’s really heavily affected me,” mulled Miles, speaking from his 19th century Louisville home. “I remember my grandpa would put on the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, and the intro song is just one of my favorite pieces of music ever.”
Visual stimuli continued to move Miles as he began writing and performing as Chief Ghoul in Chicago a decade ago. Inspired by dark movies and historical documentaries, he’s often written songs while watching black-and-white horror or ‘70s exploitation flicks. Tattooed and bearded, he’s a man who sometimes pines for simpler times and pristine places, seeking these out in the Kentucky backwoods to where he retreats with his guitar.
Miles has occasionally worked with a band, but more typically alone. It was Chicago that nurtured the profound connection with the blues – Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy – that’s been a throughline of Chief Ghoul’s releases to date.
“It really all gets back to guitar playing, for me,” Miles explained. “I wouldn’t be doing this project if it weren’t for my love of the guitar. And when I pick up a guitar, the first thing I’m gonna do is play some standard blues licks. It always gets back to that.”
But then there’s Miles’ passion for early Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin (he cites Jimmy Page as his favorite guitarist), metal, and punk. And he feels a growing sonic kinship with the likes of Graveyard’s blues-rinsed rock, and Dunbarrow’s throwback proto-doom.
These Lycanthropic Blues traces a sepia finger almost chronologically along Miles’ musical journey. The deceptively upbeat dark folk of first single “Let’s Go” is a much more refined take on what Chief Ghoul’s been doing all along. But as the album unfolds, it increasingly hints at where he’s headed, with album closers “The Blackest of Souls” and the title track indulging more menacing stoner tones.
“With those last two tracks, I think that’s more the sound I’m going for,” he confirmed. “In the future I’m gonna be doing a lot more of that.”
On many levels, These Lycanthropic Blues is the realization of a Chief Ghoul rebirth that began with 2019’s 1892. That album was the first Miles had self-produced, having tired of the creative restraints of commercial studios. But whereas 1892 was still very connected to its lo-fi, hauntingly stark predecessors, These Lycanthropic Blues is a more three-dimensional expression; still earthy and organic, but embroidered with piano, percussion, dirty bass and sometimes cavernous drums.
A Chief Ghoul constant is Miles’ grainy, lived-in timbre. It’s a wise yet wistful sound equally apt to a distant desert stare or a drunken dive bar divulgence. And it’s at the heart of Chief Ghoul’s compelling communication of our shared, vulnerable humanity. These Lycanthropic Blues reconnects us to primal sentiments and sensations suppressed by today’s sanitized society. It’s a window not only into Miles’ soul, but also a glimpse of our own neglected spaces – with all of the terror and comfort that implies.
Some of Miles’ favorite songs have come to him almost without conscious effort, out of nowhere. And maybe that’s what Chief Ghoul is: not a palpable process or personality, but rather the blurry true-self of our subconscious. It’s certainly where Miles’ music makes such rare connection, giving voice to the lurking, unspoken bonds between us. Yet he pulls it off with a subtle cowboy swagger, leaving much to the imagination and shunning sentimentality.
Miles hesitates to characterize such songwriting as “channeling,” but it’s something close.
“I know a lot of people believe in that sort of thing,” he said. “I’m not saying that I don’t. I definitely like the idea of it.”
These Lycanthropic Blues is preceded by “Let’s Go” in March, and rural-gothic second single “Out Here” in April. Miles has shot a video for the ominous yet oddly escapist “The Blackest of Souls” and, conditions permitting, Chief Ghoul will return to stages as soon as possible, be it with a band or solo with his resonator guitar.
Appropriately for someone so influenced by visuals, Miles is in negotiations to start licensing his innately cinematic songs for film and TV.
“I’ve always had in mind getting my music to something that would give it that extra visual,” he said. “That is a huge dream of mine – to get some of my music to that other medium.”
Ultimately, Chief Ghoul is the sound of an artist creating music solely for himself. Ironically, this is almost certainly why it so resonates with others.
“At the end of the day, I listen to it, and I like it,” he concluded. “It’s more niche; it’s not gonna appeal to everyone. And that’s okay.” -- Paul Rogers