I’ve noted in previous posts that one of the things I like about Twitter is the huge amount of new music I’m exposed to from the many musicians and bands who follow me. And in addition to all the terrific music, I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know some truly kind and generous people who I can call friends. They’ve not only supported me and my blog, they’ve also shown themselves to be strong supporters of other artists. One of those musicians is singer/songwriter Patrick Talbot, who goes by the artistic name Ghostly Beard.
Somewhat of an enigma, Ghostly Beard is originally from France but now calls Montréal, Québec, Canada home. Preferring the focus to be entirely on his music rather than him, he’s chosen to remain physically anonymous, so he never shows his image on any of his albums or social media, nor does he perform live. That said, he’s a creative and talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a lot to tell us, which he expresses so beautifully through his intelligent lyrics, sublime vocals and dreamy, mellow soundscapes that draw from soft rock, jazz, pop, progressive rock and fusion, among other influences. When listening to his music, one can hear his inspiration from such legendary artists and bands as Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Michael Franks, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Genesis, XTC, and Weather Report.
Ghostly Beard has been a busy man, recording and releasing lots of music over the past year or so, including his superb album Invisible, which dropped last October (of 2017). More recently, he’s released two new songs that will be featured on his forthcoming album Inward, which is scheduled to drop on May 4th, and the subject of this review. The album contains ten tracks that have more of a soft-rock vibe than the jazzier Invisible, though jazz elements are still well-represented on Inward.
Like all his music, the album is entirely self-produced. He wrote all the music and lyrics, played all instruments, and recorded, mixed and mastered the songs at his own Studio GB in Montréal. He sang all vocals, other than for guest vocals provided by Emma Caiman on “Night Train” and his daughter Sarah Talbot on “Going Away.” The imaginative album cover photography is courtesy of Pol Ùbeda. Also, it must be noted that all proceeds from album sales will be given to MusiCounts – https://www.musicounts.ca/ – a Canadian charity organization that promotes music education through a wide variety of programs, including scholarships and providing musical instruments and equipment to after-school music programs and other community non-profit organizations.
The album opens with “How Does It Feel?” a laid-back tune with rather pensive lyrics about feeling that your life hasn’t mattered…that your existence has made no impact on the world: “When you’re so invisible what do you do in the title role? And when you know it’s far too late to take your place again in the human race. How does it feel? To be less than real.” The gently strummed and chiming guitars, accentuated by just a hint of reverb, are really pleasing, and the electric guitar riff that begins in the bridge and continues through to the end adds a nice complexity to the track. The languid drumbeat is accompanied by lightly crashing cymbals and a sweet xylophone that’s heard throughout the track. Ghostly Beard’s smooth vocals are warm and comforting, and seem to lessen the sting of the unhappy lyrics.
The warmth of his vocals, a major characteristic of his overall sound, are strongly evident on the bittersweet “The Love in Your Eyes,” an easy-going song dedicated to his mother, Christiane. His words beautifully express his feelings of loss and missing her in a way that everyone who’s lost a loved one can identify with: “Out of the blue I felt your absence. And into my heart an empty place. I reached for your light, I couldn’t find it. What would I give to see you now! And I had to say goodbye when I knew it would be for the last time. However hard I tried I couldn’t see all the love in your eyes anymore.”
In addition to his smooth, comforting vocals, another signature element of Ghostly Beard’s music is his layered, multi-textured guitar work that imparts a rich, fuller sound. His skillful use of strummed acoustic guitar alongside chiming and distorted electric guitars, all grounded by subtle bass lines, are exquisitely showcased on tracks like the Country-tinged “Gone,” the soft-rock ballad “Let Go” and the jazzy “It Doesn’t Matter.” And his ace guitar playing really shines on the sparkling instrumental track “Autumn Blues,” where his fantastic bluesy guitar work seems to channel Steely Dan.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Night Train.” The captivating song tells the story of two unhappy people on a train fantasizing about a chance encounter: “We were strangers on the night train riding in the dark. Going nowhere to speak of, just escaping from the past. / And the tears started falling down. Was it yours or was it mine? / As the train was heading north, I thought of all I’ve left behind. Who knows what crossed your mind when your eyes crossed mine?” The dream is disrupted by a explosive riff of distorted guitars, then the music calms back down to its previous languid pace as reality returns: “Never spoke and never will. It all happened in a dream. During that fleeting moment in the world that passed away. / We leave so little trace but a memory in the dark. Ooh, taking the life train. Ooh, riding the long way home.” I love the instrumentals on this track, and Ghostly Beard’s vocal harmonies with Emma Caiman are marvelous.
Another standout is the darkly beautiful “9 to 5 (Barely Alive).” Nearly eight minutes in length, the influence of Pink Floyd is clearly evident, with extended guitar riffs floating above a somber but lovely piano movement. The track opens and closes with the sounds of voices as if at a gathering, adding to the sense of isolation. Ghostly Beard sounds resigned as he wistfully sings of the soul-crushing tedium of a 9 to 5 job: “9 to 5, you leave your soul behind and drag your worried mind to earn your place back in the line. / You’re barely alive. Just another day to make it through. All you do is give your light away.”
“Let It Rain” is a pretty but very sad song about being heartbroken over a loved one’s betrayal: “I’ll never trust another one. I need some time to be sane again. My whole being out of hand. Entire world just turned to sand.” Not wanting to end things on a down note, Ghostly Beard delivers upbeat feels on the bouncy album closer “Going Away.” With assistance from his daughter Sarah on backing vocals, he sings about the thrill of getting away from life’s daily routines and problems, and going off on an adventure filled with possibilities. It’s a fitting closing track to an aptly-titled album filled with beautiful, introspective songs.
1. How Does It Feel?
2. The Love in Your Eyes
4. Autumn Blues
5. Night Train
6. Let Go
7. It Doesn’t Matter
8. 9 to 5 (Barely Alive)
9. Let It Rain
10. Going Away