Jeff Hart – Ghosts of the Old North State

January 01, 1970



Triangle music scene veteran Jeff Hart doesn’t know it, but
he and I have at least one thing in common (other than sundry mutual friends
scattered around our native North Carolina): as elementary school students,
both of us discovered and were fascinated by – and no doubt had the bejeezus
scared out of us by – the book An
Illustrated Guide to Ghosts and Mysterious Occurrences in the Old North State
From crumbling bridges haunted by woeful wraiths to lost lantern-bearers doomed
for all eternity to trudge rusting railroad irons to unexplained and
inexplicable light patterns that dance along desolate mountain ridges, the
volume’s contents captured many a
youngster’s imagination like precious few books before it. I mean, I loved my Hardy
Boys mysteries, but this stuff wasn’t a work of fiction; it was genuine,
authentic lore, and it was local,
too, in some instances just a few miles away from the relative safety of my own
white picket fenced back yard.


With Hart, then, who tips his new album’s titular hat at the
aforementioned ghost book, it’s the inspiration that keeps giving: for the
songwriter/guitarist’s first studio release in 16 years he decided to revisit
some of his old haunts, e.g., songs written and recorded over the past two
decades but never formally released. Some have origins as early as 1992, and
all have been remixed along with varying degrees of contemporary finishing; for
example, a number of basic tracks from 2005 were originally cut with Hart’s
band of the time, The Brown Mountain Lights (Google that term if you want to
learn a bit of Ghosts-specific Tarheel
history), so Hart was finally able to flesh out and complete the recordings
last year. And while only Hart would be able to tell you what emotions he
experienced as he freed these musical spirits – in the liner notes he does
mention their “quiet whispers” beckoning “for a new life” – from the outsider’s
purely sonic perspective, the pleasures are many.


There’s opening track “Mr. Lonely,” with its triple-threat
echoes of “Copperhead Road,” “Not Fade Away” and (in the final, crashing
clarion chords) “Cinnamon Girl,” and its tale of watching love “blow away like
desert sand.” That’s followed by another standout, the fiddle- and pedal
steel-powered “Love In Return,” and while it would be easy to drop a reference
along the lines of “Whiskeytown-esque,” knowing that Hart wrote the tune in ’92
a couple of years before Whiskeytown actually formed leaves you with the
distinct feeling that a young Ryan Adams probably saw Hart performing in
Raleigh clubs around that time and was taking notes.


Meanwhile, smoky midtempo ballad “Burn Love” (a showcase for
Hart’s gently keening, yet urgent, vocal) and the chiming, countryish power pop
of “Goodbye Anne Shore Goodbye” are Americana standouts imbued with a
timelessness that makes them impossible to pin down, year-wise. And if you are
wanting “timeless,” look no further than Hart’s ghostly – term used
intentionally – take on the classic tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” which boasts a rich
dobro salutation plus a gospellish vocal duet between Hart and guest Lynn
Blakey (of Tres Chicas).


All of us carry memories, both actual and those lodged among
our ancestral DNA, of the past. In most cases, it’s best to leave those ghosts
at peace in order that we can move forward. Jeff Hart’s ghosts, though, clearly
carry more resonance than most. Next time I run into him I’ll let him know just
that – and, that somewhere in my attic, in the many boxes of childhood and
family memorabilia I’ve stubbornly held onto over the years, is a battered copy
of An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts and
Mysterious Occurrences in the Old North State
. Come to think of it, one of
these days I might have to dig it out and pass it along to my kid….


Love,” “Mr. Lonely,” “Wayfaring Stranger” FRED MILLS



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