Bill Frisell’s Ghost Town is not a desolate place where hopes blow around like tumbleweeds and memories have dried to dust, but a lyrical Utopia where the one-of-a-kind guitarist can indulge his love of glowing heartland melodies in splendid isolation.
Taking a break from the illustrious crossover bands with which he has traveled through Nashville and other roots-music intersections, Frisell goes solo on a collection of originals, country staples and popular standards. The bright, vibrant sound he and his longtime producer Lee Townsend get from his layered picking and strumming lights up the room. The plaintive beauty he coaxes from the songs, never breaking a sweat but never relinquishing a meaningful tension on the strings either, can light up your life.
Frisell is not one of your newfangled genre-benders. He is less interested in stylistic diversification than locating the ageless underground well in which jazz and blues flow into folk and country. Coming from another artist, rendering the standard “When I Fall In Love” on banjo might smack of musical posturing. But here, lightly embroidered with some overdubbed counterpoint, it is as relaxed and openly romantic as a Nat King Cole vocal. Departing the long, purple night of the soul portrayed by Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, Frisell offers a lucidly understated early-a.m. reverie that finds self-knowingness in being alone rather than tearfulness.
While there is no explicit evidence on Ghost Town of his recent discovery of early string heroes such as Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, tracks such as “Wildwood Flower” carry the full weight of their back-country blues. For all his optimism, Frisell is hardly a Norman Rockwellian innocent, as one jazz reviewer recently characterized him. There is complex feeling in his reflections of Americana, and, as expressed through his spooky looping, even a dark side.