(By Henri St. John, from MMB: Minneapolis Music Blog, Spring 2005)
I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair scarfing down the seemingly endless supply of beef jerky that is made available at Non-Descript Studio in South Minneapolis, listening to the members of Ghost Runner bicker for what feels like two solid hours about a waterfall sound effect that closes out track number nine from their upcoming release, Run Away From Love. Should the fade occur at the crack of a high-hat during the final guitar solo, or after the final guitar chord that stretches out like the last note from "A Day In The Life"? As a less-invested onlooker I can honestly say this decision appears virtually irrelevant when considering the overall quality of the bold and brave five-and-a-half-minute track. The bandmates, however, are digging in their heels and bickering in an empassioned and slightly frightening manner that is reminiscent of your parents' last shrill arguments before the paperwork and the separate apartments and all the new "friends". I'm wondering whether this recording will ever see the light of day, but I've heard their stuff and I'm like the kid listening in from the other side of a thin piece of drywall, praying that they stay together-if only for our sake.
One thing that's readily apparent is that Ghost Runner isn't your normal rock band. And their first studio release isn't your normal rock record.
"We're a recording band," acknowledges vocalist Tom Woldum. "In the seventies there were a lot of bands like Steely Dan and Pink Floyd that spent all their energy in the studio, not on the road. We're like them-except for the international glamour and success".
"Plus Steely Dan sucks," adds bassist Mike Bliss. Woldum hurls a piece of jerky in Bliss' direction, taking umbrage to the apparent blasphemy.
Watching the dried meat hurtle towards the bass player's temple, it underscores the fact that these three musicians thrive because of their differences almost moreso than their commonalities. Guitarist Jeff Ellington defers his musical adoration to some of the classic masters of rock and roll guitar - Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix. Bliss, who plays a variety of guitar roles (and the drums) in addition to his bass duties, reveres the underworld of guitar icons like Joe Satriani and Ty Taybor.
"And I don't give a shit about guitar players," Woldum says with a laugh, and now the glares are coming his way from his two bandmates and guitar mavens. "Give me a song that has something to say and a melody that you can't get out of your head." His influences steer from the pop of Counting Crows to off-the-beaten-path singer-songwriters like David Baerwald, from young up-and-covers like Spoon to over-the-hill acts like Little Feat. "And anything with a blues harp-that sells me every time", he says clutching a Hohner Marine Band in his palms.
The result is a band that sounds a little bit like a whole lot of bands, and a little bit like nobody you've ever heard before. In a preview listen to their upcoming CD, the first thing you notice is the drive of Bliss' basslines that underscore each song. It sets a tone that the listener can grab hold of-and grab he must, for the rock-and-blues drive of Ellington's rhythm guitars offer Tilt-A-Whirl acceleration from track to track. A virtuoso rock guitarist who has been part of both the Minneapolis and Phoenix underground rock scene for years, Ellington's guitar work is full of originality, complexity and balls-out exuberance. Woldum's lead vocals splash the palate with the voice of a weathered, angst-filled loyalist of the resistance.
Run Away From Love is both the title track and the emotional theme of this 11-song cycle that casts some serious doubt on the love-conquers-all mantra espoused by optimists everywhere. To emphasize the point, look to the title track and then flip to track #10, Love Don't Conquer All. Both songs are offered as bitter advice to a young novice in the ways of love-with Run Away advising to avoid love in the first place, and Love Don't Conquer All admonishing the listener who apparently ignored the advice and paid the price-"I really hate to tell you I told you so, but Love Don't Conquer All".
Other songs are paired for similar effect. The album leads with its most richly textured, musically daring, and flat-out kick-ass song, Below the Rafters. This exploration of a psychotic killer with family issues features a whole lot of driving guitar work, some inspired bass, and Woldum invoking the psycho in question as he lies in wait with the body of a victim, demanding: "if you could do it all again would you slice your throat or his?" Six tracks later comes a wandering, six-minute piece of guitar artistry, covering The Doors' Riders on the Storm. Transposing the organ lead of the original into a Stratocaster-fueled exploration of the troubled soul, Ellington grabs the baton from Woldum to wail from within, about another Killer on the Road.
For fans of pure pop melody and heart, set your CD player to #4 and revel in the heartbreak of I Want A Love (Like They've Got in the Movies). It's an open-book look at love not so much unrequited as unachieved. The narration looks both forward and back, in search of romantic perfection that can only be found in the fictional location of the screen, pleading with fates: "where's my happy ending"?
The album has something for everyone. Love screaming guitar solos? Check out Bliss on the title track, or on Fountain of Love. Wailing harmonica? Woldum serves it up on Johnny Missoula. Bone-rattling chords? Try Better Day. Heart-wrenching breakup songs? Listen to Ellington's wah-wah guitar weave with Woldum's woe-woe vocals at the close of the album's closing track, Now It's Time.
This is a band you've probably never heard of, and an album you've surely never considered adding to your collection. As the band readies this gem for independent release, I heartily advise you to reconsider.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Below the Rafters
3. Run Away From Love
4. I Want a Love (Like They've Got in the Movies)
5. Better Day
6. Johnny Missoula
7. Riders on the Storm
8. Fountain of Love
9. Love Don't Conquer All
10. So Long
11. Now It's Time