“The Ghost Light” – Bob Bradshaw

4 stars (out of 5)

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Do you know what the ghost light is? Me neither, until I saw the press release for Bob Bradshaw’s latest album. It’s a single bulb left on after all of the other lights in a theatre are switched off. It might be superstition; it might be practical. Whatever the reason, it’s an appropriate metaphor for any album released in the grip of the pandemic; the album’s there and it shows that the creative juices are still flowing, but there’s no way to get out there and promote it in the theatres where the only sign of life is a single light shining.

The album’s built around a core of Bob Bradshaw’s electric band with remote contributions from the likes of Dave Brophy, Dave Westner and Zachariah Hickman and each of the eleven songs is a collaboration between Bob and at least one other writer. It might sound a little patchwork, but the unification comes from the quality of the songs and Bob’s honey-over-gravel voice at their centre. “The Ghost Light” occupies a territory somewhere between country and rock, with interesting little musical diversions like the Transylvanian tango of “Sideways”, which uses clashes of style and an element of discordancy to emphasise the story of a skewed and fascinating, but transient, relationship.

Bob Bradshaw isn’t a confessional singer-songwriter; his songs are generally separate and self-contained, each one building its own entirely believable world, although you can find themes linking the songs if you look closely enough (more on that later) and it’s not unusual to find a reference to well-known songs in the music or lyrics, which brings us quite neatly to the album’s opening song, “Songs on the Radio”, a full-band piece with keys and two electric guitars creating a lovely mid-tempo drive-time feel for a song that explores the nostalgia and memories that can be evoked by hearing a favourite song on the radio. There’s a reference in there to “Across the Universe” and a harmony guitar solo that’s more Wishbone Ash or Eagles than Thin Lizzy.

There are hints at the supernatural and mystical in the songs “Gone” and “Light of the Moon” (an everyday story of a ship lured off course by siren song) and there’s a strand of loss that runs through the album, particularly in a trilogy of songs as the centre of the album, “Blue”, “Come Back Baby” and “She’s Gone for Good” that chart the stages in the death of a relationship, from sadness through regret and finally acceptance. Redemption follows this trilogy in the shape of the foot-on-the-monitor rock ‘n’ roll of “21st Century Blues” with its apocalyptic environmental message, hinting at Jackson Browne’s “The Road and the Sky” (or is that just me?). The sense of loss and alienation extends into the brooding menace of “In the Dark” before the album closes with “Niagara Barrel Ride Blues”, a solo resonator-backed song that uses the barrel ride as an extreme metaphor for tackling life’s challenges; you have to expect a bumpy ride and you need a good team to support you.

As always, Bob Bradshaw has created an album packed with powerful, creative songs that seduce with their simplicity and hooks that just won’t let go. Its appeal is both instant and lasting and a testament to the songwriter’s craft.

“The Ghost Light” is released in the UK on Friday 30th April on Fluke Records (FR11).

Here’s the video for “Sideways”:

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