Review by Rory McCartney
Tasmanian blues/alt-country artist Van Walker moved from the Apple Isle to the throbbing music scene in Melbourne, raising bands such as the bizarrely titled Goatpiss Gasoline. His separate solo career has been slow at times; his last album arrived a decade ago.
But after this long wait, Walker has spread his artistic wings once again with the new LP Ghosting, mixed by blues maestro Jeff Lang.
Opener Above As Below is acoustically driven, with ghostly backing vocals proving a good foil for Walker’s gruff vocals; a tone perhaps gained through his musical life, as lyrics in the album closer express: ‘We drown ourselves in alcohol and music and smoke’.
It is a great voice that matches a soulful delivery with blues sensibilities. The song skips along, gaining some twanging dobro in the bridge, adding to the alt-country feel. It provides a top start to the record, with intriguing lyrics, even if the song meaning is opaque.
There is no mystery to the theme of Spirit World, a tale of a failed love that is obviously drawn from painful personal experience. It is a sad story, where the expected roles are reversed, with the singer being ready for domesticity, but his love not so. However, the clever guitar play is uplifting.
Nobody Knows harks back to Walker’s native Tassie, mourning the destruction of the wilderness in exchange for jobs which disappeared over time. Walker unreels the sad verdict in a Dylan-esque tone: ‘Now the birds can’t nest in the cemented city’.
The slow ambler Long Night’s Journey to Day sees the emphasis shift to the piano and twanging pedal steel, with Walker’s voice exhibiting some extra burr.
Love song Borderline, an album highlight, exhibits some of the catchiest and most high-spirited guitar work on the record, with a great riff to boot.
The follow-on atmospheric track Crystal Ball is another winner, housing a truly enchanting melody, with ghostly, spiralling sound effects and brooding cello. It has a long instrumental lead in, drawing the listener into its haunting refrain.
To Be Sure sports a country smile in its tune, but the words are weighted with regret. Walker fits in a lot of lyrics in his songs with their longer than average running time. He is not one for simple, formulaic songwriting.
Skilful fingers raise an incredibly catchy plucked melody to When You Were Mine while the lyrics to Drifting Too Far From Shore could be an anthem for 2020 as Walker sings that he is, ‘Bored with all this boredom’.
And in amongst all his deft songwriting, The World Goes on Without Us contains some sound advice to, ‘Enjoy this life at our own pace while the headless chickens pass’.
A great LP with spirited, inspiring musicianship, some genuinely beautiful moments and superb storytelling with meanings drawn deep from within Walker’s inner being.