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Haunted House - Blue Ghost Blues

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Artist: Haunted House

Album: Blue Ghost Blues

Label: Northern Spy

Review date: Nov. 11, 2011

Despite existing for more than a dozen years, this is only the second album from Haunted House. Given the weight of these songs, that doesn’t feel wrong. Guitarist Loren Connors is well-known in some circles for his restrained, lyrical playing, but his Haunted House project allows him license to really let loose, and at times on Blue Ghost Blues he scales heights worthy of his sometimes-sparring partner Keiji Haino. Here with guitarist Andrew Burns, Connors is often supported by regular rhythmic strums, with Burns occasionally matching his fiery flights of distortion. Drummer Neel Murgai’s hand percussion keeps things moving with expressive, yet simple propulsion.

Singer Suzanne Langille leaves a lot of space in the songs, and matches the roughness of the instruments with her unadorned and deceptively simple vocals. While it’s tempting initially to search for the album title’s blues amidst the guitars, particularly Connors’ soaring, reverb-drenched waves of sound, it’s Langille who’s the emotive center. From the chanting of "Millie’s Not Afraid" to the wails on Lonnie Johnson’s "Blue Ghost Blues,” the dramatic speech of "Thomas Paine" and the pretty singsong of "Grip My Hand,” Langille’s voice fights its way through the guitars to provide solid footing, focusing songs that would otherwise be at risk of drifting.

Haunted House is aptly named, if one wants to stretch the metaphor and consider Langille the ghost, a nerve center in the midst of ineffable disquiet. "Millie’s Not Afraid" starts the album with perhaps its strongest piece. Rooted by clattering drums and a chugging riff from Burns, Connors detaches his guitar from any earthbound connection. He spews waves of coruscating fuzz that are more beautiful than noisy. And through it all, Langille’s voice comes and goes, dropping in (haunting the proceedings, one might say) to deliver proclamations in a powerful, preacher-like cadence.

Those expecting an album containing a Lonnie Johnson cover to deliver traditional blues will no doubt be taken aback on hearing these songs. But this is indeed the blues, mutated and delivered with spiritual force. The passion here is slow-burning, but no less affecting for it. Given a chance, these songs will catch hold and only reluctantly let you go.

By Mason Jones

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