Jeff Ball – Ghost Town (Return To Big Sky): A reveiw by Dan Ricketts

2009 May 4

Jeff Ball has been one of the premier NAF artists for over a decade and I have been a loyal listening fan since first discovering his music.  He became my first flute instructor through his book  The Trailhead to the Native American Courting Flute.  He has a style that is difficult to quantify and perhaps that is what I like most about his eclectic sensibilities. Perhaps “contemporary-traditional” comes as close as anything else.  The simple NAF has proven to be one of the most versatile of all instruments.  While not native himself, his music carries much of the feel of the native culture in it.

“So he plays traditional flute” you ask?  Well no, but I would say he often returns to these roots.  Ghost Town is a musical excursion across our great land, inspired by its beauty, majesty, and expansiveness. Woven into the tapestry of this musical landscape are the sounds of Native America. This is done through the use of native percussion, spoken word, and the traditional sound of the native flute. Yet it is at the same time “contemporary” and brings to the musical palette colors of western music as well, guitar, bass, drum kit, Hang, and certainly, when he deems it appropriate, a more contemporary native flute voice. You are invited to come along with me as I share how this music affects my being, the places it takes me in my mind, and the story it whispers to me.

Track One-  Before Dawn: This number opens with peaceful, meditative, and seductive sensibilities. The melody is free flowing supported by the underlying percussive elements. Opening with the steady heartbeat of a native drum and flute, and is carried along with various elements of the kit. The piece is lightly interspersed with keyboard and rattle. Listen for the half- holed notes, the first at about the 43 second mark, and notice the emotion they evoke. As we awaken to this tune we are ready for our musical road- trip across this arid western expanse.

Track Two- The Walking Land: Our journey continues against the soft chords of guitar and haunting voice of a bass NAF. The feel is expansive, haunting, yet melodic. We’re wafted along by the song of the flute as though we are a billowy cloud carried by the wind.  From the liner notes, “Waves of heat rise off the pavement-the road vanishing ahead. You’re driving fast, speeding for sure… yet the landscape barely moves.” This is the feeling expressed by this composition.

Track Three- El Baile Del Lobo (The Dance of the Wolf): Spanish guitar and upbeat percussive elements frame this piece. What catches the ear is the melody line, toe tapping, free spirited, and engaging. At around  2 minutes into the piece, the pace slows with a guitar solo interlude. The melody is reengaged by the flute and dances with us to the conclusion. May I have this dance? This tune reminds me of the Spanish heritage of the west.

Track Four- Across Time: Immediately one senses the timeless feel of this space. The sound of the flute harkens to an old, bygone world. We are transported in time to a place we have not known before. Our solace is momentary but we have enjoyed our musical interlude– a brief time of contemplation, introspection, and repose.

Track Five- Into The Sky: From the liner notes:  “You’ve seen photographs but we were not prepared…not for this. Who knew you were so small… so insignificant…its magnitude mocks your tiny trails.” Slow, expansive, and ethereal… the track opens with guitar, strumming, with gentle note bends, followed by the flute call.  Jeff holds the notes and lets them fall off in the distance as though the notes float away on the breeze. The feeling evoked by the sounds transports us to a high promontory looking out across the vastness of the surrounding horizon (I’m reminded of my experiences at the of the Acoma Pueblo).

Track Six- Chasing Daybreak: The band awakens us.  Our heart beats to the percussive sounds. Jeff makes good use of whistle and bird calls to set the mood. We embark, lured by the voice of the flute. The special smells, feelings, and sensations of a new day dawning are conjured up. We leave in expectant anticipation of what lies ahead.

Track Seven- Last Man Standing: “Dazed and thirsty from the drive-you pull off to get a drink. Your feet–in a hot numbness–carry you from the car toward a framework.” We have journeyed into the heat of the day. The excitement of the early day has given way to the reality of the elements. The track opens with the wind whistle evoking the feeling of harshness, barrenness, and aimlessness. The beat is steady and the bass flute voice calling us onward, though our countenance is lowered. The scenes around us are weathered, and we sense we might be “the last man standing”.

Track Eight- The Saving Dream: This track features the dramatic voice of Robert Mirabal.  He speaks the story of the Sunflower interspersing words from his native language but giving the narrative in English. The musical backdrop is provided by the gentle sounds of the Hang and a soft bass flute. The narrative is passionate and compelling. For the writer this is a “story within the story”.  As an interesting side note the story-poem was written by the band’s drummer, Ted Natale.

Track Nine- Ghost Town: Opening with the strings of Spanish guitar we are beckoned to a long lost place, long since abandoned by its’ denizens. It is a haunting place the flute calls us to. We imagine the place once filled with the voices of humanity, vibrant, and alive with the hopes and dreams of those that once made this place their home. Now abandoned, the flute call breathes life, even if momentarily, as this place comes alive again in our imaginings.

Track Ten- Return to Big Sky: As our day begins to wane our attention is drawn to the red sky, of wispy white clouds, and we sense a release from the harsh elements around us. A flute-guitar duet driven gently by moving percussion, providing a needed , yet pensive respite, as we try to process all we have sensed on our journey.

Track 11- Red Earth: This song features Lowery Begay providing the vocals. The song is upbeat with a timeless message. We remember all the cultures who have called this place home. Over time they have mingled. There has been conflict and strife but this has forced us to a deeper appreciation for all those the creator has made Red, Yellow, Black, or White. The music is upbeat, the future is bright, and we can walk hand-in-hand as brothers. “After all we all hold our children in the same way!”

Bonus Track: Dust Letters and Lies-Featuring Shelley Morningsong: This track comes to us courtesy of Silverwave records.  It is a nice vocal number, a bit bluesy, that fits into the overall theme of the CD.  Jeff adds an appropriate flute line as a bridge. It follows directly after the last track so be aware of it. Slow and emotive, it is a wonderful way to end our journey.

As you interact with the music and the words you will write your own version. Let the music speak to your unique experience, take notes for your own musical diary, climb aboard with the band and take a unique musical trip you will personally write. Again from the liner notes, “Ghost Town is the music of the roadways, people, and land between the tourist destinations and vacations spots… this is the west-through the eyes of a musical traveler”.

1 Comment leave one →
2009 May 31
The Noisy Bear permalink

Hey Guys. I have been listening to this album a lot. It is really a good piece of work. What makes this true for me is that you enjoy listening over and over. So I recommend you go and buy the album and add your own feelings to a thread in the forum.

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