Maybe it’s the image in my head of Kansas flatland stretching to the horizon and then some, but there’s something isolated about the widely varied tracks on the self-titled, self-released full-length debut from The Midnight Ghost Train. As though, despite the amount of low-key touring the band has done, they still can’t escape their nestled-in geography. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly as the band — a duo on the record who since have added bassist Will Shumate and relocated from their original home in Buffalo, NY — incorporates lonely and blues-laden acoustics with their densely-packed furry riffage.
The Midnight Ghost Train is led by guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss (he plays bass on the record too). Brandon Burghart handles the drums here since joining following the excellent The Johnny Boy EP, and there are a slew of guests throughout. The dramatic “Desert Red” is made all the more so by violin and cello contributions, and former drummer Jake Levin sings a gruff lead vocal on “Mustache.” Levin is one of three guest vocalists — Joseph Hester shows up on “Desert Red” and Edward Jackson adds backup for “They’re Burying Me Alive” — and although it would be easy to read this as a lack of confidence on the part of Moss as a singer, the vibe The Midnight Ghost Train gives off isn’t so much that as it is simply wanting to change things up. Moss shows himself capable of handling Fallon-esque throaty preaching on “The Swell” and a more subdued, near Cisneros-style on “River Silt.” No perceivable insecurity there.
Whatever the situation that led to bringing in the outside help, The Midnight Ghost Train is consistent in one thing: Moss’ guitar. His electric tone rests somewhere between Goatsnake thickness and Fu Manchu fuzz, and the riffs throughout the album’s heavier parts prove nothing short of top notch. Even the solo on “River Silt” comes on covered in fuzz. Though “They’re Burying Me Alive,” is mostly an exercise in spoken-word atmosphere with the O Brother Where Art Thou? soulful gospel wails from Jackson in the background, the thundering “Die with Me” is perhaps the heaviest song on The Midnight Ghost Train, echoing the doom plod of “The Swell” earlier on.
If there was one song I’d have left off the record, it would probably be “Desert Red.” Although the strings serve to stand it out among its compatriot tracks at the end, Hester’s vocal gives it a kind of local band feeling, affecting that whoa-yeah-baby Anselmo clean style that seems to have infested an entire generation of metallers’ sensitive balladry. Moss probably would have been better off to handle it himself. Still, at 4:52, it’s among the shorter cuts on The Midnight Ghost Train — all but the intro “I Drink Your Blood” and “They’re Burying Me Alive” are over six minutes — and not so much of a nuisance as to seriously detract from the listening experience. Worse comes to worse, there’s always skip.
Closer “Woman of Hate” asks the burning question “Didn’t mama teach you not to be a whore?” with a predictable amount of misogyny given the title. Nonetheless, the track progresses with a steady stoner groove and leads into a final hidden cut that is perhaps the most minimalist execution on the record. As a cap-off, it’s fitting that at the last moment Moss would bring in something yet unheard, since the album has been introducing new elements all along.
As I said when I reviewed the previous EP, The Midnight Ghost Train are showing themselves to be one of the highest caliber unsigned acts east of the Mississippi. The songcraft could be tighter, but for the loose style of play, tracks like “The Swell,” “Mustache” and “Die with Me” give just about everything a listener could ask from them. Considering Moss is giving away free physical copies of the album (postage included) from the band’s MySpace page, there’s really nothing to lose in checking them out.
Tags: Buffalo, New York, The Midnight Ghost Train, Unsigned bands