CD Review: Hall of Ghosts – A Random Quiet (Fight This Generation, 2013)
The quality of music one person can create in a home studio is at times stupefying. The technology to make high-quality recordings can be bought, but the imagination to coherently layer instruments and voices over time is an almost otherworldly talent. Brian Wilson could hear complex productions in his head, but he relied on the talents of others to make them corporeal. Even a mastermind like Phil Spector was enabled by engineers, musicians and vocalists whose ideas, feedback and criticism fed into his final work. But there is a strain of lone wolf pop musician – Richard X. Heyman comes to mind – who are their own best company. They may also play well with others, but given the opportunity to hone their vision in solitude, over a long period of time, they can create something extraordinary.
Such is the talent of Shropshire (UK) singer-songwriter Jim Williams. After two albums with the Americana band Additional Moog, Williams launched this solo project and spent two years recording and refining, transforming the country sounds of his demos into the layered Americana-pop of these final mixes. Though this isn’t technically a solo album – Ben Davies plays drums and Gerry Hogan adds touches of steel – the heart and soul of the album is Williams. He plays guitar, bass and keyboards, and his voice is both the lead and backing chorus. What’s most impressive though, is that throughout the album the interplay between the instruments, between the instruments and lead vocals, and between the lead and background vocals all sound more like a band than a studio-bound construction.
Williams cites Whiskeytown as an influence, and his productions suggest the polishing leap of Strangers Almanac and Wilco’s Being There. His voice has some rustic edges, but is more often in line with the pop style of Matthew Sweet and Michael Stipe. His harmony arrangements suggest CS&N, and the album’s loping rhythms and pedal steel hint at Déjà vu. There are a lot of influences shoehorned into these eight tracks, and though the lyrics are mostly impressionistic, notes of melancholy, regret, resignation and hope filter through. The album’s calling card is the mood expressed in its melodic hooks, lyrical pacing and deft instrumental mix – a grand achievement for an artist recording and producing himself in a home studio.