Kristen Grainger & True North are a pleasant Americana band from the Pacific Northwest. They are accomplished musicians with obvious experience on the bluegrass circuit. They are the sort of band you’d expect to be playing folk festivals and cafes. For the most part, their power comes from sincerity and calm presence. It would be easy to just let the tunes wash over you like a warm summer rain. If you want, you can take in the superficial prettiness and be happy with that.
Or, you can listen to what they’re singing about. “Tattooed Love Song” drifts by calmly enough. A bit of phrasing on the chorus caught my attention because it reminded me of Stan Rogers. Then I notice that they’re singing about migrant farm workers going from job to job, hoping their luck holds.
“The Ghost of Abuelito” is the stand out track on Ghost Tattoo. Grainger tells the story of a family fleeing violence in Ecuador. The young boy says his Abuelito’s (grandfather) ghost comes to him when he’s afraid and when he’s there, Miguel can be brave. Their grandfather believed in the United States He believed that the Americans would always help the refugee and those in need. That’s why the family fled north.
At the border, the family is intercepted. The border patrol takes their mother away. The children are sent to one of the kiddie concentration camps. Miguel’s sister sums up the soul killing effect; “Minutes to hours, days to weeks, Miguel my brother hardly speaks, bit by bit he’s disappearing I asked him if he’d say the prayer that would bring Abuelito here, he says Abuelito’s hard of hearing”
Ghost Tattoo is a pleasant album. I’m not that big a fan of this sort of mellow Americana music, but “Ghost of Abuelito” makes it a keeper. I wish a song like this could have the power of something like “Blowing in the Wind” in 2020.