Ghost Light’s 2019 debut, “Best Kept Secrets,” instantly catapulted the band into the middle of the jam band scene. Technically a “debut” album, Ghost Light was the latest project of guitarist Tom Hamilton’s quarter century-plus musical career. The band, a reconfiguration of Hamilton’s American Babies, was met with overwhelming approval from the start.
Riding a massive wave of momentum, the Covid pandemic wiped out the band for almost two years. Such a pronounced break early on could have sunk Ghost Light for good, but it had the opposite effect, making them stronger. The time off allowed Hamilton to catch his breath after working and living on the road for years, and he harnessed his newfound energy and creativity into Ghost Light’s sophomore release “The Healing.”
Hamilton, who produced both records, took a different approach with “The Healing.” He was able to capture the band’s live sound on a studio release, which Hamilton says was the goal from the beginning.
“The mission statement was to keep the record closer to just the five of us. Not have so many overdubs and extreme instrument shifts,” Hamilton states. ”This record sonically feels much more real. Any post production was just the five of us in the room. We’d add a little something here. A tambourine or extra guitar…It was about capturing who we are.
”The first record was about capturing what we could be,” he continues. ”This was about capturing what we actually are.”
Hamilton credits his Covid reset for helping him to accurately capture the pure Ghost Light sound he was searching for.
“The idea of the non-stop touring with our jam scene is not conducive to writing songs. Or being able to live and find inspiration in life,” Hamilton explains. ”If you keep putting the same information in the machine, you’re gonna get the same results. It was good to be off the road. It gave us time to reflect and come up with this record.”
Having his own studio to work from while the world was social distancing was a major benefit Hamilton took full advantage of during the pandemic, adding “It’s a place from me to be creative and work out the ideas I have and whatever the fuck I’m trying to do with my life. One of the lessons of Covid was definitely, ‘hey man, I need time off.‘ I need to be at home and have a life with my lady. Or raise a family, go on vacation or just hang out with my dad. Being on the road, I wasn’t able to do that for so long.”
The updated Ghost Light sound emerges quickly in the first two songs, “The Healing” and “Faces in the Moon.” Both songs sound like they could have been written and recorded in the 70s. Although never released, both songs have been in Hamilton’s world for years.
Hamilton begins, “The first two songs, the music was written for those tunes in 2015 when I was making the last American Babies album. During the writing sessions and demoing songs for the American Babies record I had eight tunes. Four fit together one way. The rest fit together in another way. They didn’t fit together as a unit. So, I had to pick one of those batches and finish them. The ones I picked ended up on American Babies “An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark.”
Hamilton adds, “I still had the four tunes sitting around I never did anything with. “The Healing” and “Faces” are two of those demos. Just the music – I didn’t have the lyrics. I sent “Faces” to Raina in 2019. I was like, ‘I found this thing. If you get bored and want to sing something over it, go ahead.‘ She sent it back with the lyrics and how it sounds today.
”With “The Healing,” I found the demo and was like, ‘I have to write some lyrics for that.‘ “The Healing” is one of the favorite things I’ve written,” Hamilton claims. ”It’s a lyrical style I’ve been working towards. I’m finally getting where I’m trying to be with that style.”
Another song with an even longer lineage in Hamilton’s archives is the mid-album instrumental, “Opening Credits.” This spacy tune finally introduces the piano prowess of Holly Bowling into the heart of the mix. Hamilton created this song almost 20 years ago after attending a concert of his current JRAD bandmates Marco Benevento and Joe Russo. Hamilton reflects on that night long ago.
“Opening Credits is even older. The first time I saw the Benevento/Russo Duo was 2003 or 2004. They played some song with a weird time signature. I think it may have been in 9/8 time. I was like, ‘what the fuck is this?‘ I knew it was cool, but didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. I went home and wrote this instrumental bit.
“I wrote it for them with the thought to give it to them to record. The whole song is in 9/8 time, but it’s all different ways to count to nine. I gave it to the Duo in the late 2000s when I was doing a lot of playing with them. We tried to record it once…It needed five people. It just went back into my musical folder. It was another thing I found during covid. I had so much time to go through hard drives and find the shit I’ve done. When it came to coming up with stuff for this record, this was another song I knew this band would play the shit out of. I taught it to them and we knocked it out of the park.”
One area where this album stands apart from most are the vocal contributions of Raina Mullen. Her tone is bold and in your face throughout. Still, she never comes close to over singing or becoming too much to process in the mix. Mullen soars vocally on “Take Some Time,” “Up Here Forever,” “Sweet Unlimited,” and “Dig a Hole.” These songs immediately send you back to the glory days of Heart or Fleetwood Mac – a testament to the dialed-in sound the producer side of Hamilton created.
“With this record, I knew what tools I had. I knew what everyone is good at. I also knew what areas that may not be so strong. Knowing that as a producer and songwriter helps guide me,” he states. ”Sometimes you’ll add something because a member is innately better at this. Or you may do stuff because they’re not good at it and this song could help them get better.”
Letting Mullen take the vocal lead throughout the album was another pre-planned idea from Hamilton. “On tour, we obviously play the Ghost Light songs we have. We also play a lot of my back catalogue – stuff from American Babies and Brothers Past. I’m a fan of the idea of getting Raina’s song count up. She’s another great singer and songwriter so let’s push that to the forefront.”
With another Ghost Light record to choose songs from and a tour ahead, Hamilton doesn’t plan to shy away from the songs that have been a part of his career for years.
“I made a handful or records with Brothers Past. I made a handful of records with American Babies. Ghost Light is the next thing…that’s most of my career so far. There’s gonna be variety and an arc to it. They are still songs I love. Ghost Light is really a rebranding of the American Babies stuff. So, playing that with Ghost Light made sense. The Brothers Past stuff is a huge part of my life. I love a lot of the songs I wrote back then. So why not let these songs live?”
Looking ahead, Hamilton says fans can expect to see plenty of Ghost Light around the country for the rest of 2022 and into 2023. “It all comes down to schedule. JRAD is going to do its 40 shows a year. Ghost Light, as long as everyone has time and wants to do it, we will do as much as we can. We’re looking at playing around 40 shows in 2022, which is pretty light for us. We usually do 70 or 80. We want to get that number up in 2023.”
When asked if he thinks the new batch of Ghost Light songs will be easy to stretch out on the road, Hamilton boldly concludes, “Oh yeah. We’re gonna jam the shit out of them.”
Ghost Light “The Healing” 2022 Royal Potato Family