Sometime last year, singer/songwriter Aram (no last names, please) developed a throat condition that kept him from singing or even talking for six whole months. Recently arrived in L.A. from his native Boston, Aram had to wait it out until he could finish recording Ghosts in a Season. Perhaps it is this combination of transplant and illness that gives the best songs on this album such a distilled air of wistfulness and longing.
Aram has already released a first album, East of Western, on Subliminal records, but this is his first Surprise Truck release. And, Springsteen fans may recognize his reedy tenor from the 1997 Capitol/EMI tribute album One Step Up/Two Steps Back, on which he covered “Something in the Night”. It’s not hard to pick up Springsteen accents on this record, but its moody landscape is more reminiscent of Nebraska than of Springsteen’s rocking blue-collar favorites. Other influences, all squarely in the time-honored singer/songwriter category seem to be Jackson Brown and Elton John and even the Beatles, all of whom are nobly honored on this unpretentious and straightforward album.
From Springsteen himself all the way back to Dylan and the Guthries, the singer/songwriter has always been a traveler of the back roads, a drifter far away from home. Ghosts in a Season finds a comfortable place for itself within this tradition, vividly evoking New England to the South to Los Angeles. It is truly a geography of displacement, longing, and loss upon which our singer/songwriter inscribes his laments: “Indian summer is not what it ought to be / when the colors of the palm trees don’t change” (“Indian Summer”), or “I can’t believe that any of my friends are even wondering where I am sleeping” (“Blackberry Winter”).
Aram backs up this lyrical roadmap with competent and satisfyingly jangly guitar, tasteful strings, Hammond organ and the occasional handclap. The drums and bass in particular, supplied on this album by Elliot Smith collaborator Scott McPherson (who also co-wrote some of the songs) and PJ Olson’s Matt Fitzell respectively, keep the otherwise traditional lineup from losing its freshness by adding light flourishes and extra melodic texture. Aram’s voice, while not soaringly unusual like Michael Stipe’s or gravelly and intimate like Springsteen’s, nevertheless at moments approaches the best qualities of both.
And that’s pretty much the whole story. There’s nothing much innovative here, but it’s all delivered with enough intelligence and earnestness that it doesn’t matter. Plus, for this native New England girl, there’s something satisfying about hearing our J. Crew-tainted landscape honored in a genuine way — this album is scattered with references to red wool sweaters and Volvos with missing taillights. Thus my favorite song, “Bigger Highway”, describes a trip to Los Angeles by way of Rockport and Portland, Maine with all the wistful and wide-eyed hope that characterized the credit sequence at the end of Good Will Hunting — an old car and the tree-lined plush of Route 90 headed West.