America, circa mid-1800s: never-ending Southern plantation fields, miles upon miles of crops, the leaves tipped brown just at the ends from the drenching sun. Horse-drawn seeders and reapers plod from row to row while human workers, slaves and poor whites, take on the more detailed cultivating duties. They keep their minds occupied by making music while they work, a sort of half-singing, half-speaking vocal style, and with no instruments, the body becomes the rhythm section, primarily clapping hands and stomping feet. The songs are repeated and become familiar to workers, many of whom can now sing along to the lyrics they know as they are led through each verse by a worker who takes on main vocal duties. The songs become a part of the culture, repeated for younger generations, and eventually become a part of America’s oral history.
The Ghost Of Paul Revere call their style “holler-folk”. Vocalist/guitarist Griffin Sherry told a local Portland paper the band had come up with “holler-folk” because they were struggling to describe their sound: “We weren’t bluegrass or country, and we weren’t folk or blues. Those definite lines were hard to really see. So we started calling it “holler folk,” and it stuck. It is partly a nod to old field hollers. We feel that our vocals are one of the strongest aspects of the group, helping to define and separate us from other acts.”
This appears to be all true, confirmed at their show Thursday night at the Music Box Supper Club. Ghost of Paul Revere is not any one genre – every song can be divided up into more than one category. “We didn’t get access to a lot of traditional bluegrass stuff [in Maine],” Sherry told PressureLife, “That’s more south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so we had to put our own spin on it.”
It is also true that the vocals are one of their strongest assets and does help to set them apart. Vocals are shared between Sherry, fellow guitarist Sean McCarthy and banjo player Max Davis, whose three-part harmonies are so well-tuned together they sound like three different notes of the same voice. Matt Young completes the band on harmonica and mandolin. If you’re looking for the old, scratchy-record style of Americana, this isn’t it. Their style is polished, their sound and playing skills are sharp but their music is no less authentic. The specific evidence for this claim can be found in the moments of the show when the boys set down their instruments and led the audience through a stomp-and-clap field holler most of us Northerners recognize as gospel. It was the vocal highlight of the show. The musical highlight of the night was “San Antone”, a stunningly pretty mix of bluegrass and country/western with multiple change-ups in melody and feeling. It’s what you expect real San Antonio, Texas would sound like, but from four northern New Englanders.
“[Maine] is a fairly hard culture,” Griffin tells PressureLife, “but everyone has so much heart and spirit, it’s hard to not write music that embodies the same. There’s definitely a hardness to them but there’s a passion to them as well. Our music is influenced by artists from all over the country and the world, but it’s got its own saltiness to it.
“Maine is also a largely natural state, lots of undeveloped land, and that just sort of lends itself to acoustic and unplugged music. It just kind of gets into your blood.”
Apparently something Maine does not have is walleye. While raving about the Music Box’s incredible food, bass player Sean McCarthy questions if walleye is a type of perch. His innocent ignorance gets a quick laugh from those of us in the audience native to Cleveland, many of whom have eaten lake-to-table perch and walleye since we were kids, whether we wanted to or not.
Ghost Of Paul Revere will continue touring through the summer including stops at several major festivals. They expect to be releasing their finished new album this year.
The show opened with the more old-skool sounds of Akron’s Gage Brothers, featuring singer Ben Gage seated on stage with a washboard and paint cans. They’ll be releasing an album May 5.