Often there is nothing more seductive in music than emotional and creative melancholy, a thought wonderfully backed up by Family Ghost, the debut album from Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm. Coming from the latest project of songwriter/vocalist/musician Hoffman, no stranger to acclaim through her solo releases, Family Ghost is an imagination stoking dark theatre of word, emotion, and beauty, or as potently suggested by its press release, “A whirl of cabaret, broken ballads, and indie rock, it is a collection of heart-bending narratives that double as emotional exorcism.”
Hoffman’s songwriting was already alive but was further nurtured by Jeff Buckley after she met him backstage while waiting for her father. He became her mentor up until his death in 1997, just one month before she released her debut solo album. Released by Virgin Records, Megiddo was critically acclaimed and subsequently followed by just as evocative and striking encounters. Hoffman assembled the Secret Storm a few years ago with its intimately and personally open Family Ghost built on songs written over a decade ago as well as newer explorations by their creator.
The release opens with Don’t Look Back, a tantalising serenade with wistful melodies and a brush of rhythmic coaxing around the enticing tones of Hoffman. The shadowy groans of cello from Cathy Monnes (of the indie-pop Sally Rose Band) are as potent and persuasive as the imagination of keyboardist Ethan Lipscomb, both bewitching textures in a swiftly riveting encounter. Its thicker crescendos of sound and evocation just reinforce the persuasive majesty of the song while all the time Hoffman’s vocals sublimely capture ears and thoughts.
From its gothic, funereal spiced enterprise, the band unveil a lighter gait and atmosphere with second offering Feel It All, though again the darker hues of cello and brooding tones of Jeff Diehm’s bass provide rich drama against the livelier air cast by guitarist Tony Lechmanski (Bella Morte) and Kevin Ardrey’s boisterous beats. Though less pronounced the vaudevillian touch of its predecessor colours the track to captivate before Let The Waves Crash On Me hugs the senses with its country rock/folk lit embrace. Its reflective heart and rich weave is a kiss on the ear, Hoffman a beacon at its core.
Sick With Love radiates in melancholic intimacy and vocal openness next while In The Sun bewitches as it grows in gentle but open intensity and imagination with each passing second. Both tracks easily excite but find themselves outshone by the following I Just Broke Up With A Guy Who Looks Kinda Like You. Carrying a Young Marble Like Giants like minimalistic air and seduction as bass and guitar entangle their descriptive prowess, the irresistible song blossoms into a tenaciously catchy slice of pop ‘n’ roll with spicy melodies and swinging rhythms. Even its magnificence though has to play second fiddle to the album’s title track which seduces straight after. There is drama in every riff, theatre in each ear flirting hook, while rhythms and vocals bring their own creative imagination to the compelling tapestry. Like a siren, the song lures the listener into its busy evocation of spirit and emotion.
Through the noir lit stroll of Fast Lane there is no let-up in the album’s grip on body and appetite. The song is as funky as it is jazzy, as folky as it is poppy; its dark rock ‘n’ roll nurtured croon simply haunting infectiousness. It is majestic in an understated but bold way, a success matched by the similarly catchy saunter of Broken. A thin but rich melody initially courts the magnetic presence and tones of Hoffman as the track offers another slim yet thickly provocative adventure and insight to get seriously caught up in.
The exotic bordering sinister hug of The Dragon comes next, the track a shadowy seductress in air, intent, and voice increasingly infesting and seducing body and psyche from its first provocative breath. There is also volatility in its nature which only adds to its might on the way to taking best track honours.
Family Ghost is concluded by the calm yet emotionally inflamed Til It Lasts, a fine end to a release which is Lauren Hoffman at her most creatively adventurous and open, backed by a band with as much suggestiveness in their sounds as in the singer’s heart bred words. It is darkly magical and sure to be on the favourites lists of a great many.
Family Ghost is out now on iTunes and other stores.
Pete RingMaster 07/02/2017
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