Second-place finishers at the 2014 International Blues Challenge, the Ghost Town Blues Band have graduated into a signature local blues act, on Beale Street and beyond, and a notable name on the genre’s wider landscape. Hard Road to Hoe, released earlier this year, only adds to those credentials.
Recorded at Ardent Studios, the album showcases the band’s stylistic diversity and command within the blues tradition. This is a modern Beale band informed by both the rural accents of the Mississippi Hill Country and the second-line strut of New Orleans, with prominent horn and organ/piano presences that keep the band from being overly guitar-focused.
The Ghost Town Blues Band can do serious. The memorable, linked bookend songs confront loss in tones of both tough-skinned swagger (the title track) and front porch contemplation (“Road Still Drives the Same”). But the group’s greatest strength may be as a blues party band that sidesteps the stale or corny, with the strong presence of frontman Matt Isbell flanked by that nimble, spacious sound: “Big Shirley” (“She’s six feet tall/Four feet wide/It takes a wrecking ball to keep her satisfied”) is a juke-joint housewrecker suffused with both Southern rock and ‘50s sock-hop. “Tip of My Hat” rides atop Crescent City rhythms. “My Doggy” is a playful highlight elevated by some swooning guitar-and-horn interplay and some guest harmonica by Brandon Santini. — Chris Herrington