Roam Like Ghosts – …To That Place You Call Home – Album Review
Hearing that first remarkable dip downwards in the melody of the opening tune “Before We Began” captured my interest right away as I was listening to this new album by Roam Like Ghosts, a duo consisting of Matthew Daugherty singing for ya along with Bucky Fairfax on the ol’ guitars. Starting out with an instrumental that plays like a serene intro into the record and curiosity-provoking gateway into their first album released in nearly three & a half-years, …To That Place You Call Home opens up with a subtle invitation to listen & an indication of the extraordinary humble sound you’ll find within this set of songs to follow. This particular cut’s got stunning texture & emotion to it already, and it’s all achieved without a single word as the album begins, doling out a spectacularly haunting, yet highly-endearing mix of melancholy & mesmerizing melody that immediately entices you in …To That Place You Call Home.
Your first sample of Matthew on the mic is equally impressive – you can hear the man’s all-pro, and a perfect complement to the smooth vibes emanating outta Bucky’s guitar on “Memory Of You.” Notably, you’ll also notice the songwriting even more as you delve into the set-list; the poetic nature of their lyrics and detailed imagery begins to be revealed right away, and will remain a constant asset that works well in favor for this band throughout their new record. There is a lot of heart within the confines of this record, and that starts to get exposed as quickly as you start to listen – and the words begin to fill in the details of why things sound the way they do, quite often in melancholy, as you’ll find on “Memory Of You,” despite its contrasting uplifting acoustic vibes warming up the melody in the music surrounding Matthew’s vocals. “The pain of heartbreak, as we learn, goes away” – is a beautiful line that in itself somewhat reveals the irony of the situation; they’re not wrong in this assessment, but by the very existence of this song, you still hear how memories & nostalgia that creeps up unexpectedly into our minds can make our wounds as fresh as yesterday, or the memory of the good times just as sweet as when you first experienced them. “Memory Of You” does a great job of examining the push/pull of how these thoughts invade our hearts & minds and how we process relationships in hindsight of the aftermath. I like to think that the easygoing sound this song generates and the main line of the chorus where Daugherty sings “if I could, don’t think I would, change a thing” proves he has found his peace.
I mean…look…anyone listening out there is likely gonna hear the same things I’m hearing – these dudes can truly write a great tune, and they’re executing flawlessly. “Disappear” is an excellent example of an upbeat cut on …To That Place You Call Home that brilliantly parallels the idea of looking at photos and dreaming out loud about what it’d be like to escape, drop everything, and go to those beautiful places you’re lookin’ at…the very concept of how sweet it could be to just “Disappear” with someone you love. The additional harmonica provided by Steve Harvel sounds fantastic…the drums are a brilliant understated element of why this song connects on such a grounded level, and the enthusiasm you’ll find in the energy of the most pepped-up moments of “Disappear” in its chorus are an excellent match for the theme of the entire tune. Think of it this way…it’s a song that’s based around the concept of the excitement in the moment…that knee-jerk reaction that tells us to do something wild & feel ALIVE in the process – and through the way they transition into the chorus of “Disappear,” you really feel that surge of energy take hold, resulting in an inspiring listen that makes you wanna turn this tune up & drive far, far away. Where to? Doesn’t freakin’ MATTER – get in. Unplug, unwind, life, laugh, love – “Disappear” is about all this kind of good-good stuff & more, and they both wear this spirited suit remarkably well.
Tunes like “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” are powerfully loaded with emotion that could easily bring a person to tears without question – I think this is an absolutely stellar and completely gorgeous song in every aspect. Vocally, you get one of Matthew’s best here for sure…you feel that connection to the words surge through him and the way he sings this melody…the gentleness of the music is a perfect complement to the boldness of his voice in contrast…it’s truly an exceptional moment on the album all-around. The writing again stands out for many reasons, but perhaps most notably this time around, “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” is written like an open-letter of sorts…and dammit, it’s heartbreaking. With the additional violin provided by Kait Moreno being so essential to the spellbinding moment they’ve created here, “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” is undoubtedly a highlight on the record for me & will be for many listeners out there – there’s not a hair out of place from performance to production. You feel this one…likely because there’s sentiment & sincerity you’ll find you can deeply relate to in some way, shape, or form…songs like this connect to the heart & mind in ways that defy description – and that’s when you know you’re onto a tune with truly sensory sound. Not too often that you’d find me readily recommending to put out a slow jam as a lead-single to bring the people in…but there’s an allure to this song that no other cut on this record has, and you can feel it in your bones as you listen. Roam Like Ghosts are undeniably at their most captivating on “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” – I’d definitely be taking a good look at this cut for the ol’ video treatment and putting this tune out there with all the support it needs to succeed…this could be a massive gateway for the masses into the music they’re creating and a verifiable hit. They get the most out of their own potential here – “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” is seriously fascinating & a master-class in songwriting – it’s an all-out achievement, 100%, and a tune on this record that’s bound to be beloved by many listeners for its gripping emotion.
“Rewind” is an interesting tune in the sense that, Matthew quite often reminds me of Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, and of course they also wrote a song called “Rewind” on their second record Friction, Baby. But that’s a story we’ll get into more down the line here when I’m talking about a song called “In The Moment” later on towards the finale of this album. I really appreciate the amount of nostalgia-inducing feelings they’ve laced into the spirit of this record – and I think I appreciate the fact that it’s not always necessarily going to lead you down your favorite avenues in the memories of your mind even more. That’s what ya call being REAL folks – that’s what Roam Like Ghosts are so often dealing in – real feelings…and ya know it, cause you feel it too…and they’ve got us roaming through the good, the bad, and all the rest in between as they serve up this set of evocative songs. “Rewind” contains what’s likely going to be one of the most memorable hooks in its chorus for the people out there to sing along to – and I can only imagine the brief stop/start of the punch into a line like “he’s a mystery, built on catastrophe…we don’t know” could end up being quite the massive moment in a live show as they surge into the final verse & chorus combo as well. Love that little twinkle in the keys in the background…it might even be an actual xylophone, I’ll leave the mystery of what’s in the recipe to these fine folks right here – but whatever they’ve got goin’ on, seems to stack up into tangible specialness we can all enjoy.
I feel like they’ve set us all up with “Find You” – what are we gonna do here, complain? It’s pretty hard to argue against 1:49 that packs as much into its length as this one will do, or with such radiantly colorful sound & singing to come along with it. Does it further the story of the album or provide ya with a memorable moment, or does it fly by all-too-quickly without too much to define it in comparison to the rest of what you’ll find on the record…that’s the main question here, and it’s one that each of us will answer through our own interpretations of what we hear I’m sure. Why I’m saying they’ve set us up, is because we really CAN’T complain…it might not necessarily move the needle forward, but it definitely doesn’t go backwards – it’s 1:49 of time that’s still well spent, just not quite as impactful as what you tend to find in songs where Roam Like Ghosts have more space to use – you followin’ me? So if it seems like I’m complainin’ – know that I ain’t – I’m just sayin’ the more time they seem to give themselves on any given track you’ll find on …To That Place You Call Home, the more depth they’re able to put into the details & establish that unbreakable bond between them & the listener that’ll keep’em all comin’ back. You see? You see what they’ve done here? There really isn’t anything at all to complain about when it comes to this record, so we start naturally looking for anything & everything we can point out for some kind of potential improvement…the truth is, while it might not be the most essential track to the album, “Find You” is no less enjoyable whatsoever…it plays like a quick interlude & that’s more than fine by me.
Good ol’ Steve Harvel comes on back to harp it up on the harmonica once again throughout “Sara” and makes another solid contribution to the comforting vibe of this cut. Matthew sings this one expertly – I love what he’s done in the main hooks of the chorus on “Sara” and think that it was definitely among the most memorable moments he’s put into the vocals along the way. Bucky lays down what’s likely my favorite solo on the record as well…it’s brief, but perfection…all-around, “Sara” has pretty much everything goin’ on for it and a ton of universal appeal. What I think almost makes this particular track even more of a unique experience is how this spot in the record’s lineup really has you appreciating just how versatile & diverse this duo’s music has been throughout …To That Place You Call Home – this is far removed from where we started, different than much of what we’ve experienced to this point, and certainly miles away from what ya just heard on “Find You” right beforehand, you dig? You factor all that in along with the fact that Matthew explodes straight outta the gate and how “Sara” starts rockin’ without what seems like even a hint of warning on that first spin, and believe me when I tell ya, this tune will make an impression on ya, one way or the other! After you absorb that initial shock and you know what’s coming atcha on those subsequent spins, “Sara” is more than likely to become a favorite for many people out there…everything sounds right in the pocket, in the groove – they’re feelin it, and as a result, so are we. Ultimately, it’s one of the best examples you can point to of Roam Like Ghosts at their most engaged, energetic, focused & ready to rock; it’s still a gentle form of rock, but rockin’ all the same.
“Sum Of All My Wrongs” was a RAD track to experience on this album – and I’m not even necessarily saying it’d be right up there with my ultimate favorites…but I could definitely make an argument on its behalf. Here’s where you’ll find Roam Like Ghosts let out just a lil’ something different than anything you’ve heard from them yet on this record…they’ve got a song here that could justifiably fit on the first EP by Alice In Chains called Sap…and once again, at the same time, they’ve infused this with a ton of their own sound as well to make this cohesive to their own catalog, even while it sits right on the fringe. The guitars are off-the-charts incredible here Bucky my man…the harmonics along the way even try to steal the whole show if you’re listening close I reckon; the musicianship is magnificent! Matthew more than holds his own as well – there’s no doubt that “Sum Of All My Wrongs” has no problem embracing that combination of how the Blues influenced the underground Grunge sound below the surface, but you gotta marvel at just how effective they are in bringing it all outta the dark & shining into the light.
Being now what I’d consider myself to be – a fan of Roam Like Ghosts – I do like the diversity tunes like this “Sum Of All My Wrongs” bring to the record overall…do I like it quite as much as what I’d consider to be their more natural habitat to be found in on tracks like “In A Moment” or “Photograph (Don’t Forget Me)” or the endearing melodies they’re capable of creating on tunes like “The Great Unknown” & hooks in “Sara?” That might be another story – but the sheer fact that they’ve created so many different styles of music on what so many people would likely be quick to write off as a folk-duo by the genetic makeup of the band, is going to be a huge surprise for anyone out there listening that’ll assume it’s all gonna be simple & straightforward. Roam Like Ghosts have found a way to really blend diversity into a real cohesiveness you don’t often find coming along with such a range of sound & style – and it’s essentially just another reason to love these dudes. Songs like “The Great Unknown” are a fantastic example of so much of what this band is doing right, and an excellent reveal of the power they can create through the most subtle moments. Listen to how the backing vocals make such an outstanding contribution here…I love where they sit, I love how they sound – it’s a perfect example of how to get the most out of a melody. The additional keyboards at the heart of the melody here sure don’t hurt none either, that I can certainly confirm as well – “The Great Unknown” has the depth you’re looking for in real songwriting that connects, with all the skillful musicianship & professional capability they need to make it all come alive for us while we’re listening. Highly transferrable songwriting here – the craft is as impeccable as their performance of this song is…you can literally hear how a cut like this could work as a Country song, a Blues tune, a Pop ballad…their multi-dimensional potential could take them in any direction & one of the best things about …To That Place You Call Home is how they’ve kept us guessing.
You’d probably have to have spent as much time in the 90s as I did to fully appreciate just how much the humble songwriting & detail in this album would remind you of something as special & remarkable as the debut self-titled record by Better Than Ezra was way back in the day. Not too many records out there possess that same stunningly sweet & unassuming quality to it, heck – even BTE tried to recreate it themselves time after time since and still can’t quite bring back the humble heart they found in the magic of that first album…yet here we are, and Roam Like Ghosts have verifiably latched onto something exquisitely similar & still all their own. I’ve felt like this long before “In A Moment” mind you, but by this point of the album, I felt like the comparison is undeniable…at the very least in songs like this one. The organic hand-drum percussion that comes along with this song enhances the entire vibe perfectly here – and the extra space in the atmosphere will have you listening to the words of “In A Moment” and truly appreciating how grounded & down to earth this duo can be. Sparkling with sincerity and beautifully poetic lyricism, lines like “the things you need, have been there all the time” are a powerful reminder of what truly matters. They put in countless insightful lines, demonstrated pure passion, artistic integrity, sonic diversity, and completely tangible heart & soul into this whole lineup of songs – and they should be mighty proud of the results they’ve achieved throughout the versatility of this set-list and how it retains our interest, no matter how much they switch up their style & sound along the way. “In A Moment” is a beautifully quaint moment in time with meaningful messages you can’t possibly miss – it’s comforting, inviting, soothing…and perhaps best of all, it sounds so brilliantly natural, unforced, and organic that you just know Roam Like Ghosts have no problems at all getting to the heart of their songwriting and diving in as deep as they can go to obtain the best results they can possibly achieve.
I dig the uniqueness of Bucky’s guitar work on the final cut, and I like the fantasy-driven, lullaby-like aspect they display in the songwriting of “Close Your Eyes” to end this record. Matthew reminds me a bit of the highly expressive way a singer like Daniel Greaves from the Watchmen does his thing, and also the oddly endearing melodies of a dude like Chris Collingwood of Fountains Of Wayne at the same time…still a little Kevin from BTE in the mix there too somewhere…ultimately, I like all of these singers a whole lot and certainly dig what Daugherty brings to the music of Roam Like Ghosts. Impossible not to appreciate’em both though – Bucky and Matthew and all the contributions made by all hands on deck from behind the studio boards to in front of’em sharing the spotlight along the way should definitely be recognized – they’ve really got themselves a set of songs that’s as well-played as it is well-written, and an album in …To That Place You Call Home that speaks volumes on behalf of the specialness they’ve found between them. It’s the kind of record that brings you from one side of the acoustic-based realm to the other, and in the process, creates a flexible lineup of songs that can’t help but keep you fully entertained, if not outright fascinated at the impressive level of insightful emotion and heartfelt themes.
Find out more about Roam Like Ghosts at their official website at: http://www.roamlikeghosts.com