Maxine Kauter Band – Ghost In Love
The first thing I notice is the reverb.
I have played The Maxine Kauter Band‘s previous release – 2011’s Alibech The Hermit – so often that my ear has become accustomed to its soundspace: acoustic-intimate, conversational, with even the more rockin’ tracks played as if from a smaller (albeit packed) inner-city music room.
The new one – Ghost In Love – is immediately felt as bigger. The reverb pushes the album’s walls outwards to contain a heavier, more expansive sound. Yet, at the same time, the reverb is a marker for the ethereal quality that pervades the album – the ghost of the title seems to haunt each track, literally, metaphorically, nagging at the idea of what we consider solid – be it everyday reality, our self-image or our relationships.
It is almost as if the same mass has been spread, atomised and blasted to all corners of this upsized musical universe.
But to hell with physics, this music is beautiful. Kauter is one of our most gifted, literate and sharp songwriters. Her voice is the perfect instrument for her songs and her band, firm friends by now as well as bass/guitar/drums, make the tunes live in the now.
Double-bassist Shannon Haritos and drummer Stephen Beverley keep it rolling and rocking – check their turbulent groove under the title track, Haritos’ misterioso bass intro to ‘Spirit House Keeper’ (a live favourite for the last few MKB gigs), Beverley’s taut snap through ‘Can’t Always Have It All’.
Guitarist Peter Holtz – who recorded and engineered the album – is also more to the forefront on the new album. As befits its broader and heavier sound, Holtz’ electric guitar is splashed across Ghost In Love – shimmering on ‘To Revere’, scything on ‘Ghost In Love’, cosmic-surf guitar here, country sweet there. His solo on ‘Spirit House Keeper’ is remarkable – jazzy, shredding, virtuosic, while shaking out all the burnished peacock plumes the song needs.
Yes, the MKB is a Band. But it is Maxine Kauter‘s songs that arrest and enthrall. From widescreen-pop opener ‘Letter to a Former Lover’, across the country-bruised ‘Silent Moves’ and the noir-theatre of ‘Spirit House Keeper’, the ambition and breadth of her songs matches the larger sound of the album.
Pop classicism, hinted at on Alibech, even creeps in – the doubled-vocal on the cover of Guided by Voices‘ ‘Drinker’s Peace’, the dramatic washes of guitar, the echoes of ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ on ‘To Revere’ and all those little ‘I’ve-heard-that-somewhere-before’ melodic touches that all great Pop writing must have.
By the time we have arrived at closer ‘I Knew I’d Get You In The End’ – a slowly unwinding, erotic prayer (reminiscent in a way of Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘I’m On Fire’ but without the overloaded heavy-breathing and with a coolly heated lyric: “Pulled out the stitches one by one/Sucked on the pin that pricked your tongue”), Maxine Kauter and her Band have played a wonderful movie across our minds.
Ghost In Love has shown us rooms and stairways with ghosts descending and dark corners and sunlight and moonlight hazed through an ether that pervades the entire work.
It is always reassuring – both for themselves and for the over-arching artform – to see an artist’s work advance and evolve and build on roots laid. Ghost In Love is an evolution is sound, craft and – above all – the Art of song that reaches us in places that very little else can.