Posted April 06, 2016
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
In an era when electronic, hyper-processed musical tones are the norm, there is a deep need for balance provided by organic instrumental backdrops and more complex, thoughtful lyrics. That is the kind of balance that The Gray Havens seemingly effortlessly provides.
A year after the release of Fire and Stone, a project which made waves with the unique storytelling musical chemistry of husband and wife duo Dave and Licia Radford, The Gray Havens returns with Ghost of a King. The title instantly introduces some of what you can expect from the album's content: intriguing, ethereal imagery layered into lyrics reminiscent of classic folk ballads.
This kind of style is evident from the outset with intro track "Ghost in the Valley," which begins with the words "I met a ghost deep in the valley." A narrative weaves through the songs from that point forward, taking us as listeners on a musical journey. Title track "Ghost of a King" epitomizes this story-telling style and is the truest folk ballad on the album, detailing a conversation between the traveler and the ghost of a king. The results are striking and instantly unforgettable.
Although many of the songs fall in line with that narrative and musical thread, the album takes too many side paths along the way to be a true concept record. "Band of Gold" is a duet love song reminiscent of cuts from recent Jon Foreman EPs. "Diamonds and Gold" introduces a slight electronic edge to the indie-folk sonicscape, reminding of early Paper Route as it turns the focus towards the treasures that will last. Mostly instrumental interlude "A Living Hope" follows this same musical trend.
Although leaning on story and metaphor, it's consistently clear that the story being told is one of redemption, similar to the lyrical habits of Andrew Peterson and Jason Gray. "Take This Slowly" centers around a prayer, requesting grace from God to take these transient days one moment at a time ("I'm just asking for grace to carry on / grace to take joy in my place at the table and the rock that it's standing on"). Redemption-centric "At Last the King" beautifully casts the incarnation in language of analogy: "I will go, I will make a way home / And I will bleed like the enemy / In the dark, in the shadows, light has come." This album satisfies artistic and spiritual appetite in equal measure.
The Bottom Line: Ghost of a King is folk pop at its best, providing just musical accessibility to draw in a broad spectrum of listeners and lyrical depth that keeps us digging. This album promises to cement The Gray Havens' status as one of the most promising indie darling acts of 2016.
Song to Download Now:
"Ghost of a King" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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