On September 9th, 2022 at the Harrison House in Joshua Tree, Georg and Heike debuted a collection of songs that would later comprise Son of Velvet Rat’s Ghost Ranch studio album. A sacred space to present these new pieces, stripped-down to their most essential elements: two voices; one gruff and anchoring baritone, the other lifting in weathered hope, over six strings danced upon by Georg’s possessed spider-fingers, every note plucked with intention. A bare-boned outpouring, reverberating through the House like Midnight Mass in a rare church brave enough to explore the complexities of love.
That night, which ended with a refreshing baptismal monsoon as we walked out to our cars, would have to be preserved in the amber of memory until Georg and Heike would properly document the songs at Gar Robertson’s Red Barn Studio in Morongo Valley the following spring ’23, before finishing the album in Austria.
If you can’t find an address, you’ve come to the right place, where all the essential elements remain fermenting. This is Ghost Ranch, a free range that can only guarantee the unbounded—no roof overhead, no cross to guide us; nor a single solid wall to hide behind, to limit vision or confine us.
Like the opening credits of an unearthed Western, Georg’s eerie harmonica ushers us into the first track, “Bewildering Black and White Moments Captured on Trail Cams.” Like death-gripped and wrinkled mementos; pre-emptive souvenirs of still lives we can only experience fully when no one else is looking, including its unbeknownst subject. Or maybe just some long gone kind of twisted series of memories… When Georg repeats “There is no such thing…” it initially vibes fatalistic, the way he denies the true believer and common ground. But Georg is casting out artifice here, carving the point to its truest essence, liberating the listener from wrong or right as “the beginner” pleads innocence.
While organic, the lens of the human eye can often glitch, causing doubt to what we are seeing. “Are The Angels Pretty?” ponders this conundrum, cross examining our own honesty: Do we really keep our secrets, or do we leave them at the door? Either way, we know we’ve arrived once we hear the unmistakable guitar of Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) grace the empty spaces; reappearing slightly more raucous in “Beautiful Day” alongside Jolie Holland, whose guest vocals offer prudent anchor to the celebration.
“A Deeper Shade of Blue,” “Southbound Plane,” and “Golden Gate” could be perceived as a trilogy baked into the album’s sequence—three revelations of travel, moments suspended while in motion. A sudden awareness of our surroundings, even when it’s only the mind moving. From sea to sky, each song carrying various weights of cerulean. The tenderness of presence; of disappearing.
On “Rosary,” we explore the dichotomy of our tribe’s affections; the irony of opposites until we step back to witness the wide shot of its balance. The scale of justice when our circle is infiltrated by the insincere outsider, the options of guardedness versus grounding. Daddy’s gonna take me to the shooting range for my birthday, Momma’s gonna give me a rosary… A frayed thread interwoven by Heike’s wild theremin, her voice a salve for any wounds inflicted.
Reserving the most intimate moment on the album to just Georg and his guitar, “New Frontier” is perhaps Son of Velvet Rat’s most naked and delicate confessional to date. Recalling early 60s English folk, it’s a tender song of surrender, acceptance, and resolution. While personal to him, Georg has crafted an offering we can re-gift to enemies or estranged loved ones when our own words escape us.
Disarmed, the floor seems to drop from beneath us, falling into the darkest moment of the album in “Kindness of the Moon.” A plodding nod to chance disaster, it’s only when we stop crawling when we realize we are bowing down, humbled by life’s lottery.
In contrast from the album’s brief trip through the pitch black, I mention to Georg that Ghost Ranch seems lighter, more hopeful than Son of Velvet Rat’s previous efforts. “If the new album seems more light-hearted to you,” says Georg, “it must be the presence of love as the most powerful force in life that seems to be a theme running through most of these songs.”
As further testimony to that spirit, they’ve revisited one of their most acclaimed love songs “The Waterlily and the Dragonfly,” this time with a full-band arrangement, before the cicadas cut into the courtship, serenading our eyes closed to compliment, never to compete with the night.
Morongo Valley, CA