Holy Ghost Tent Revival Rocks Out Oldtime Tunes

Greensboro, North Carolina band Holy Ghost Tent Revival are another of the seemingly endless parade of Americana bands who’re pushing the envelope, taking old styles to new places. In the case of this band, that means big electric rock arrangements of oldtimey-style swing tunes. On their live album Northbound at Southpaw (recorded at that Brooklyn venue), rambunctious electric piano mingles with Hank Widmer’s trombone to add a jaunty ragtime flavor over the electric guitars, bass and drums. A lot of the songs here sound like the Wiyos gone electric, with a brisk shuffle beat, tasteful high-energy playing and lots of vocal harmonies. This isn’t particularly dark music but it’s smart and it’s a lot of fun – and it’s absolutely original. Other than the playing, which really rocks, an unexpected plus is the vocals. They don’t blackface them or strain to add “authentic” southern or 1920s Harlem accents: they just sound exactly like who they are, a bunch of Greensboro kids having too much of a good time not to share it with you.

These songs are long, clocking in at around five minutes apiece. Surprisingly, the best one is Overlooking Brooklyn. Most songs about Brooklyn or Manhattan written by outsiders suck balls – this one is a deliciously rare exception, from the rich, jangly electric banjo-and-guitar intro to the observations of a guy from out of town who almost dies from falling off a roof, gets lost in Prospect Park and perceptibly picks up on the tension here between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. With its hammering piano intro, the swaying, bouncy ragtime/country hybrid Walking Over My Grave could be Dan Hicks updated for the 21st century. Guitarist Matt Martin gets to fire off a couple of memorably snarling solos in the lickety-split shuffle Down the Street and then A Viper’s Twist, after that song’s long, disarmingly pretty piano-and-vocal intro. My Heart Is Yours sets another swing shuffle to haphazardly careening rock, while Martin’s breathless boogie Hope I Don’t is closer to Warped Tour punk than country. They follow that with Northbound, which amps up a vintage doo wop style tune. The album (for that matter, the set) goes on one song too long – they could have left off the final, endless baby-I-just-can’t-wait mini-epic and they wouldn’t have lost any energy. Watch this space for future NYC dates – as the band says, who knows, you might find them playing on a sidewalk somewhere around here one of these days.