Seattle six-piece, Marley’s Ghost, is celebrating their 30th anniversary, a major milestone for a group who has kept up their commitment to playing roots, rock, blues, bluegrass, soul, gospel and country, incorporating different sounds from America’s musical past without ever sounding dated. The super-group is made up of one talented bunch of singers and multi-instrumentalists, including Dan Wheetman, Jon Wilcox, Mike Phelan, Ed Littlefield Jr., Jerry Fletcher and Bob Nichols. In appropriately rowdy and riotous spirit, Wheetman, Wilcox and Phelan first formed a trio for St. Patrick’s Day, 1986 in the San Fernando Valley. Wilcox named the group, an erudite tip of the hat to literary master Charles Dickens, and it stuck. Fletcher and Nichols soon joined the ranks, and the rest, as they say, is history.
On July 15th, in celebration of their anniversary, the group will be releasing a new album, The Woodstock Sessions, produced by Grammy-winning Larry Campbell at the legendary Levon Helms studio. Wheetman says of the project, “We were fortunate to work with Larry, whose love of traditional music drove the direction of the project, but whose broad musical palette shaped it into something more than just a collection of old songs. Woodstock itself is a timeless old place and I think it influenced the vibe of the album as much as the choice of tunes.”
Today, Elmore is premiering “Alabama John Cherokee,” which Wilcox, who sings the lead vocals on the track, calls “a classic American John Henry type story, originally a sea chantey from the 1830s Mobile Bay cotton trade.” He adds, “I learned it years ago as an a capella call-and-response work song. Larry used that as the starting point for a passionate, dramatic, instrumentally-driven piece of musical art. Way hay-o.” The group starts sparsely, with a thudding drum and Wilcox’s lonesome, deep howl. But soon the sextet’s harmonies burst through, a striking display of the group’s spectacular sense of cohesion and whip-sharp timing. Fiddle, drums, guitar and add to the languorous depth of the track, which rings with the dust and the ghosts of the American past.
Listen to “Alabama John Cherokee” here on Elmore.