Ghost Town
Marley’s Ghost
Sage Arts

Twenty-plus years on down the line, eight albums deep into their catalogue, the stylistic ramblers known as Marley’s Ghost reveal themselves on Ghost Town to be at large mostly within the confines of expansive southwest and western terrain, with a jaunt south of the border for good measure. Credit at least some of this sense of place to the quintet having enlisted “Cowboy” Jack Clement as producer, who, dating from his late ‘50s-early ‘60s tenure as the house engineer at Sun Records, knows the importance of evoking a certain geography within the parameters of song. So it is that the ebullient strut of Tim O’Brien’s “Less and Less” finds these fellows’ close-knit harmonies conjuring the western spirit of the Sons of the Pioneers, as surely as the winsome melody, familiar boom-chicka shuffle and big, resonant twang of the Danelectro in Clement’s own “Got Leavin’ On Her Mind” inspires mental images of barren, tumbleweed-strewn plains standing in for the singer’s sense of imminent despair. See, the ghost town of the title is not merely the wide open, and oftimes desolate, locales of the band’s specific world, but rather an interior hollowness emanating from one too many mornings awaking alone. Consider that the Marley’s ghost of Dickens’ fiction proclaimed, “Mankind was my business!” and you get where Ghost Town is coming from. Not humankind—mankind is what it’s all about here. Man insecure. Man alone. Man despondent. Man melancholy. Man guardedly optimistic. Of the fourteen songs extant, almost all depict the solitary man deep in the throes of existential battles with himself over his fate, or his next move, in the wake of something having gone awry with a woman. Man in love. Man seeking love. Man watching it all slip away. Man lamenting its loss. These are real Louis L’Amour characters here; even the songs—some by band members Mike Phelan and Dan Wheetman; others from Clement, Shawn Camp, Tim O’Brien, Warren Zevon (that should be a clue as to where MG is at on Ghost Town, as the band offers a swirling, honky-tonk ballad treatment of the self-flagellating “She’s Too God For Me”), Kimmie Rhodes-Emmylou Harris, Willis Alan Ramsey, Don Williams and John Hartford—are rife with ambiguity and muted enthusiasm in the best of times (as in “I started out to be your friend/I never meant to feel this way/Here I am in love again,” a tellingly reserved declaration in the otherwise steel-drenched, bouncy country rush of Hartford’s “Here I Am In Love Again”). From the dour sayonara of Ramsey’s “Goodbye to Ole Missoula” waltz—in which the received wisdom might best be summarized as “better to leave her late than not to leave her at all”—to Wheetman’s gently shuffling, western-styled country ballad, “Light In the Forest” (less Faulknerian than Muir-ian—as in John Muir—in its sense of nature as a healing force), the heart’s stormier climes astonish in the variety of pain and disorientation they inflict on the human topography. The wonder of it all arises in those moments when there is reason to believe: in the determined pronouncements of Shawn Camp-Billy Burnette’s “My Love Will Not Change,” a brisk bit of hard country business with some Cajun flavoring courtesy Joey Miskulin’s exuberant accordion, and right after this, a beautiful, swirling love song with a Tex-Mex tinge, “Love and Happiness For You,” a Kimmie-Emmylou collaboration dedicated to the proposition of its titular blessings ensuing from the subject’s steadfast moral code. And to top it all off, that sounds like ol’ Cowboy himself hollerin’ Roy Acuff style and bringing some topicality to the affair in the old-timey ambiance of Tracy Schwarz’s “Poor Old Dirt Farmer,” who, when you think about it, is another example of a man alone, with singular existential quandaries to deal with. Though this appraisal may make Ghost Town seem like a draining exercise, Marley’s Ghost brings both beauty and soul to its agenda here. However wrenching the trials their songs describe, the buoyant music supporting each text—always lovely and affecting, even in its most subdued moments—carries a cathartic component, a decided suggestion of however much heartache this way comes, the soul is resilient enough to prevail in time. “Let it be” is the operative term.—David McGee

Marley’s Ghost’s Ghost Town is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024