The honesty and good intent encompassing the whole of Kristen Grainger & True North’s Ghost Tattoo, an album that elevates them into a rarified position where endearing melodies and words of affirmation and integrity find a common bond, ought to be applauded. The songs ring with resolute determination even though they ply each of their arrangements with carefully considered subtlety and finesse.
Their’s is a low-key sound in a certain respect, but the messages they convey reflect everyday scenarios and situations bolstered by an array of current topics, from the couple that meet by chance and bond over their tattoos (Tattooed Love Song), to the horror of children detained by immigration control along the Mexican border (Ghost of Abuelito), and the scourge of abuse inflicted on women who fall victim to those who prey upon them (Light By Light, She Flies With Her Own Wings).
The fact that these songs maintain such a low-cast gaze only accentuates the earnest emotions that populate the material, adding a sense of sadness and furtive longing at the same time. Credit the musicians — Grainger (vocals), Dan Wetzel (guitar, vocals, mandolin), Martin Stevens (mandolin, octave mandolin, fiddle, vocals), and Josh Adkins (acoustic bass, vocals) — for mining this burnished hue with such restraint and sincerity. To their credit, they also tackle a few well chosen covers that fit the tone and tempo of the album overall — The Secret Sisters’ hushed ballad, Mississippi, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott’s utterly alluring, When No One’s Around, and Peter Rowan’s rowdy and rambunctious, Lonesome L.A. Cowboy, among them. Nevertheless, it’s again to the band’s credit that their original material is every bit the equal of those outside efforts and that it all flows together in such sync.
A calm caress is needed more than ever these days, and as a result, Grainger and company deserve kudos for maintaining such ease and equilibrium. Consider Ghost Tattoo to truly be a newfound treasure.