As a writer, I suppose it’s natural for me to have a soft spot for well-written lyrics. I was gobsmacked, though, at some of the turns of phrase on the latest record from Oregonian Kristen Grainger. For instance, “outside the traffic clattered, like a sky full of geese drawing fire.” Does that draw you a picture or what. With support from her band, True North, Grainger crafts those verbal images into stories, and then again into a collection of folk and bluegrass tunes on Ghost Tattoo.
The aforementioned quote comes from Fine Young Companion, featuring husband/guitarist Dan Wetzel on vocals, a weary sounding recollection of advice from a weathered stranger. Tattooed Love Song is just as detailed in its tale of love delivered at the hands of a long-suffering ’96 Honda Accord. Ghost Of Abuelito invokes the smell of coffee and cigars to describe the guards when Grainger imagines the fear and bewilderment of children taken from their parents at the border.
As well-woven as her own songs are, Grainger also has an ear for gems from fellow songwriters. Her clear, bright voice brings a different perspective in a full-on bluegrass rendition of Peter Rowan’s Lonesome L.A. Cowboy. There’s a touch of Marty Robbins sound in the Cehalen Morrison-penned ode to 19th century cowboys, Down In the Lonesome Draw. You’re tempted to sing along in the celebration of dropping inhibitions when one is alone in the Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien piece, When No One’s Around.
This is the 6th album from Grainger and True North over a 15 year span. I missed the first couple of them, but since then it’s been a steady progression of memorable songs and musicianship that brings them to life. Even before the pandemic, the Oregon-based band hasn’t made a habit of cross-country tours. So you kind of have to seek them out, but Ghost Tattoo shows you why it’s worth the effort.
And in these not-so-normal times you can also catch them livestream on June 26, 7pm PST on Instagram @truenorthpnw and Facebook, @truenorthbandpnw.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.