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Ned Farr and the Good Red Road: The Ghost of It All
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/4/2017)
From time to time, I am reminded about just how many people are making and recording music, from the superstars who labor for months or years on their project, to garage bands who throw together stuff for their friends or play for the fun of it. The internet allows almost anyone to get their music out there in front of audiences, with the intervention of the record labels having become largely irrelevant. A majority of the music being released is, of course, from artists who devote much of their time to their music, and keep at it more or less constantly. But there are those for whom music is an occasional pursuit. Usually, the music that results sound that way, generally lacking in the finesse that develops with practice of frequent performances and/or touring.
Once in a while, though, there will appear an album by one of those casual, once-in-a-while groups that turns out to be as worthy as any by the relentlessly performing musicians. Last fall, we featured a fine new recording by a group called American Football, who released one album in 1999 as a kind of casual ensemble, which developed a bit of a cult audience, and then did not follow it up until 16 years later.
This week, we have another impressive example of an album by a group whose members have their own careers, not necessarily in music, and have scattered around the country, not having had recorded in about 16 years. It’s by Ned Farr and the Good Red Road, and their new recording, only their third formal album in 22 years, is called The Ghost of It All.
Ned Farr spends most of his time in the film and television business, working behind the scenes and more recently as a filmmaker. In 1995, he and his band-mates were all in New York where they created a kind of ethereal folky style with bits of classical influence and jazz, revolving around Farr’s diaphanous, melodic tenor vocals. They played in folk clubs around New York, including the legendary Bitter End. They made their debut recording in 1995, called The Good Red Road, which introduced the group’s sound that was alternately contemplative and expansive, with some Native American references on their first record. The album did not receive very wide distribution. In fact, it was only because Farr’s wife, and fellow singer-songwriter Dreya Weber had appeared here on WVIA on Homegrown Music that she convinced him to share his music with me. I thought it was outstanding and we featured it on this review series back then. Farr and his band, eventually appeared on Homegrown Music and not long after made their second album, Desert Motel which was something of a subtle concept album.
Farr’s career in film took him to the west coast, and the other band-mates scattered to places like North Carolina, so the group was inactive, until they decided to reconvene in 2015, and recorded in North Carolina for this new album. As Farr writes on his website “Twenty years after making our first album we decided it was time to make a third. Not as easy as it sounds. Were we still a band? Thankfully we’d kept playing our instruments. But because we were split between coasts and couldn’t rehearse, the plan was to record old songs that never made it on an album. Surprisingly, that music had changed its meaning.” They also managed to come up with some new material.
The result is a fine new record that is full of the subtlety and the kind of beguiling quality that marked their previous work, though this album has a bit more of a melodic pop sensibility. The compositions are mostly love songs from different perspectives ranging from the relationship between two exes, to love at first sight and the pursuit of an attractive stranger.
The band maintains the same personnel as was on their 1995 debut, with Farr on the guitar and lead vocals, Evan Richie on cello and as co-producer, Cenovia Commungs on violin, Jim Olbrays on electric guitar and Dobro, Jon Ossman on bass and some keyboards, and Joe Casolino on drums. There is a small string section on some of the pieces, and additional backing vocals, including from his wife Dreya Weber.
Opening is a piece called Band of Gold, presumably a reference to a wedding band, and what happened to the marriage over the years. It’s a good example of the combination of subtle multifaceted arrangements and appealing, melodic sound. <<>>
Another musical look at a relationship is explored on Single Beds in New York, whose lyrics of loneliness are tempered by the more upbeat arrangement. <<>>
A song called Virginia features some Dobro by Jim Olbreys, and with some fiddle, it can take on a kind of country sound. <<>>
One of the most appealing songs on the album is Garden which hints of 1960s psychedelic era pop in both lyrics and music but with a more multi-layered sound. <<>>
The Girl in the Field has a bit more of the folk influence, with the song being a kind of reminiscence of the past. <<>>
One of the older songs on the album is Crybaby Moon, which goes back to at least 1998, when the group performed a version of it on our Homegrown Music series. It holds up well, and provides another facet of the unfolding of relationships over time. <<>>
A track that combines some melancholy lyrics with a more upbeat musical setting, is called Solar. It’s nicely done with its arrangement combining some atmospheric strings with slightly rockier textures. <<>>
The fairly generous album concludes with Be the Arrow, using the arrow as a metaphor in the all-out love-song lyrics. <<>>
Ned Farr and the Good Red Road on their new album, The Ghost of It All, only their third in over 20 years, is a fine new record of subtle, mature love songs, mostly in the form of vignettes, with a very appealing sound featuring sophisticated arrangements, fine musicianship and thoroughly appealing vocals. What makes it remarkable is that it has been 15 years since the group last got together to record, with the members scattered around the country each with their own careers in the intervening time. There’s no sign of rustiness on this project, and the material sounds fresh, even though some of the previously unrecorded songs go back decades.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The recording is clean and has a pleasing airy quality that captures the mood of the songs well. A few points are deducted for the volume compression used to artificially jack up the loudness.
I had the pleasure of working with Ned Farr and this group for one of our Homegrown Music programs before their last album in 2000. With the passage of time, I had expected it would be one of those memorable groups that stops performing when the circumstances of the members change. So it is a pleasant surprise that after all this time, Farr and his colleagues re-convened. The result is a memorable album which like their previous ones, seems to reveal some new facet at each listening.
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