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Currituck County - Ghost Man On Second

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Artist: Currituck County

Album: Ghost Man On Second

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Apr. 28, 2005

Ghost Man on Second, the fourth full-length from Kevin W. Barker under the Currituck Co. moniker, juggles two ostensibly irreconcilable musical approaches. In one hand, on the album's two fingerpicked country ballads, Barker channels the weary fatalism of countless country crooners. In the other hand, the extended raga-like drones, marked by either Barker’s probing guitar or banjo work, the Brooklyn-based picker leans hard on John Fahey. One thinks of Fahey’s The Voice of the Turtle and its mix of traditional songs, tape-and-guitar collages and the solipsistic irony of the liner notes. And Barker is indeed a solipsist, busy sculpting his own world from the clay of American folk traditions, all the while managing to keep his juggling act alive.

For this second installment in the Ghost Man triology, Barker calls on Espers’ Otto Hauser to help explore his spirit world. Barker makes explicit that this record is a journey. Fantastical, skewed maps, like the ones we imagine intrepid explorers from centuries ago used, decorate the cover. Song titles speak of transience: “Embark,” “Space Cruisin’,” “Don’t the C Look Wide and Deep.” Six of the nine pieces clock in at over ten minutes. Graphically, musically and lyrically all signs on this double album, disc one subtitled In Two Towards and disc two In Turn Returns, point down the road.

The guitar-playing hitchhiker from disc one’s “My Home” laments, ”My songs don’t belong on the Top 40 radio / I’m gonna make that ol’ back 40 be my home.” It’s a sly bit of self-effacing humor, as the hitcher looks back over his shoulder at the two preceding songs, the 16-minute “Embark,” and the lush chords and glistening steel-string runs of “The Ark.” On the first, Barker sketches out a place where the banjo’s country twang meets a modal ramble from the Indian subcontinent, buoyed by prayer bowls, bells and hand drums.

“Space Cruisin’” and “Space Cruisin’ Boogie (Remix)” get a prize for not only maintaining, but actually building interest during their mammoth sprawl. As a foundation, the duo spread layers of flickering feedback, electroacoustic hum, mourning harmonium, subtly varying their pitch and intensity. As the drone ebbs and flows, bits of percussion rattle through the mix and metallic shards of electric guitar chime in and out. The tone is sensual, the mood almost playful and warm.

The other extended pieces similarly benefit from a minimum of ingredients and a maximum of direction. With a dilapidated, shambling beat on the traps, Hauser adds a loose rhythmic thrust to “Don’t the Road Look Rough and Rocky” and its reflection “Don’t the C Look Wide and Deep,” propelling Barker’s sharp bass pulse and slippery, wobbling high register. Remarkably, for a double disc of mostly rambling pieces, there isn’t a whiff of filler.

Each piece, aside from “The Ark,” has a twin on the second disc, meaning the album slowly unfolds, then surreptitiously reverses course to its starting point. At the end of disc two, on “Where is My Friend?,” the hitchhiker from disc one now looks back on where he has been, with more questions than answers. ”Who is this face I see before me,” he wonders, ”staring back from the glass?” Taken on their own, Barker’s vocal pieces would be merely naive and his spacey drones indulgent. But taken as a whole, as Barker most certainly intends, they draw a picture of a charming place called Currituck. Wherever it might be, it’s worth the trip.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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