The Ghost and the Guest is an interesting album that was recorded in a simple bedroom studio and was released last year by LDS artist Jake Workman. Loyal Linescratchers followers may recognize Jake from his days with the group “The Sweater Friends”. Prior to listening to this album, I had never heard any of his music, and knew little about him. So, it was with a completely fresh and unbiased perspective that I was able to sit down and listen to his music.
I reviewed the album in a digital download form and found that the download contained much more than just music. Graphics from the album are included, as is a scanned copy of a handwritten thank you note from Jake. Most interesting though was a large booklet, which was conveniently provided in a number of different e-reader formats. Right about here is where things started to get weird, interesting, or sentimental – depending on how you look at it. The included e-book comes in at over 40 pages. In the preface, we learn that the songs were inspired by the life of Henry Pickett Pratt, who was born in 1866, and left a journal about some of his early life – a journal which was read by Jake Workman. Something about this man and his experiences struck a chord (pun intended) with Jake, and provided the inspiration for the songs on the album. The e-book includes portions of the journal that provide a backdrop of sorts for the songs. Jake has intended for the journal and the music to be enjoyed simultaneously in order to get the full experience of what he intended to create and capture.
Unusual? Yes, but this is just the beginning as we learn that Henry Pickett Pratt and the journal are complete fiction. Prior to writing the song “Pickett”, Jake had never written a song that wasn’t personal, and he found it very liberating to write from a fictional point of view, about a fictional character. Inspired to expand upon this experience, he continued writing and found that his lyrics could not contain the storyline, and so he created the “journal” to go with the songs.
It’s an interesting approach – a rather unlikely and unexpected project, and a concept that Jake hopes to further develop in the future. My curiosity was peaked, so after skimming through some of the journal, I began to dive into the music. Appropriately enough, the album is largely acoustic driven – real drums, guitar, bass and mandolin, with a good scattering of electric guitar to shake things up. Jake plays all of the instruments except for the drums.
I hear a number of influences in the music – everything from Folk and Americana, to Classic Rock, to some Alternative, New Wave, and Modern elements. In spite of a few beautiful intricacies scattered throughout his arrangements, much of the music is simple in nature overall, and sets the mood of a simpler time and place. This is not an “old-timey” album though, as I was constantly reminded by the melodies, electric guitar, and song structure, which provide some modern, artistic contrast to the acoustic simplicity at the core of each song. Jake seems completely free as an artist to make unexpected twists and turns as he tells these storied songs – easily shrugging off the “rules” and confines of commercial songwriting in favor of something more organic and free spirited. While “mainstream” audiences might not embrace this, I understand and respect where he was coming from, and find that it is consistent with the setting of the story he is trying to tell.
I found parts of this album very relaxing and nostalgic, reminding me of days spent in my youth playing guitar on the front porch or sitting around a campfire, and in that way, it was very endearing. At the same time, there is a good balance of energy brought on by southern-fried and alternative sounding electric guitars, which makes for a reasonable amount of variety while staying true to the core concept.
Jake’s thin and sand-papery voice is complimented in a number of places by his wife, who provides a clean vocal that doubles, harmonizes, or weaves around his parts, with no obvious pitch problems or evidence of auto-tuning from either of them. The vocals are at their best when they are in sync with each other and really blend well at times. His voice seems almost a little more suited for a New Wave or Alternative type of sound, but his heartfelt delivery still manages to compliment the feeling of a more simple time, and occasionally we find the usually mild-mannered vocalist channeling his inner rocker and tearing it up bit. Overall, I was disappointed with the vocal production though, as both the lead and backing vocals seem too thin and small in comparison to the bigger, warmer sound of the acoustic guitar driven arrangements. For this style of music, and particularly where the lyrics are a focal point, I felt that the vocals needed to be brought out of the mix a little more, and deserved a little more production value. This is not to say that the performances weren’t good, only that they weren’t captured and presented as well as I think they could have been. I would have liked to have heard some minor changes in how the drums were mixed also, but really – outside of the vocal production – the rest of the production seems very appropriate for the type of music – with an organic and under-produced sound that works well for the setting. All in all, it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine the sound of a natural, live performance.
The album starts off with a fairly simple, melancholy song, which lulled me into a false perception of what to expect on the album. When the second track, “Henry is Close” came in it did so with a bigger arrangement and a lot of energy, giving me a sonic smack upside the head and leaving me truly interested in what the following tracks would hold. I really enjoyed this track, and found myself hearing a wide range of influences permeating Jake’s playing. I felt that this song was one of the highlights of the album for me personally. Later in the album, Jake takes a break from singing on “California”, an instrumental that starts out softly and then becomes more intense during the midsection, before again closing out with a sweet and simple lullaby type of feel. Despite what I felt were a few small production bumps during the mid-section, I found myself also enjoying this track very much.
The last song “Miles and Miles” ends the album very much as it started – with a scaled back, simple arrangement. Unfortunately, the ending of this song ended up a bit sour for me, due to a production trick that was well-intended but came up a little short and sounded gimmicky – especially considering that the album as a whole was otherwise free from any obvious production “tricks”. I wish that the album hadn’t ended on a weak note, but in a way, it is symbolic for I think how this album will be received… Those who rarely stray outside the “mainstream” with their musical choices will likely find this album falling short. However, if you respect creative vision and originality, and enjoy music with an Americana core, you may find this album & journal combination both interesting and engaging. Jake has successfully blended the simple sounds of tradition with modern melodies and arrangements that should appeal to a diverse group of listeners.
I think it’s a bit presumptuous for me to apply a “rating” to this highly unusual and innovative fictional history and music combo, and would rather just share my thoughts with you and then let you judge for yourself. While there are a few areas admittedly lacking, I found somewhat of a strange attraction to some of the songs as I felt momentarily deported from my hectic modern world and relishing a bit of sweet simplicity. While it won’t replace anything on my ipod “favorites” list, there are certainly a few gems on this album that I enjoyed, and I am intrigued by the whole concept of the album. Based on what I’ve heard, I can certainly say that Jake and his guitar would be welcome at my home, studio, or jam session.
You can find Jake’s music online at http://www.ghostguest.net/
Matt Mylroie is a Florida-based music producer, audio engineer, songwriter and musician who works under the business name of Driftwood Tide Music. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org