It’s not surprising that “Ghost Land,” the latest EP from Worcester musicians Duncan Arsenault and Craig Rawding, collaborating here as The Marshall Pass, is a beautiful piece of work. Both artists are veterans of numerous Worcester bands, and their praises have been widely sung. No, what’s interesting about “Ghost Land” is both its melancholy tone, and the cohesion of its emotional narrative.
Coming in at a slim five songs, the album can be split into three sections. The first section, comprising the opening songs “Waiting for the Shoe to Drop” and “Blood Riders,” bespeak a sort of sense of dread. Arsenault plays a subtle, understated riff that rolls like a gentle stream, while Rawding’s vocals fall softly, restrained. There’s a sense of anticipation in the song, a sense of gentle resignation that intensifies when it gives way to “Blood Riders.”
“It’s been the same old story,” sings Rawding, “since Abel was felled/The weak gonna die/The strong gonna kill/Someday there’ll be a judgment/that’ll sort that ill/But ’till then blood riders/coming up the hill.”
Arsenault is playing slow, bluesy music, which is sometimes punched up by Rawding’s harmonica, but the duo’s immense sense of patience with each song is both unusual and immensely rewarding. “Blood Riders” fades, and “Cold Day in Hell” seeps in, feeling almost inevitable. In a lot of ways, this is the only song in the EP’s second section, a caesura of sorts, as Rawding’s persona mulls a sort of acceptance with his lot, and the result is wistful and mildly bitter, thoughts such as “Will be a cold day in hell/when everything goes well” give way to, “Nothing ever falls where you thought in your mind/But it works out fine.”
There’s no joy in those lyrics’ delivery, but the punch of smoldering emotion rolls into the EP’s final segment, which centers on loss and grief. The album’s penultimate song, “Lost Horizon,” literally finds the album’s persona outside of everything he knows: “When you’ve lost it all/Either walk or crawl/We walked on ’til we lost the horizon.”
What are we when we’ve lost everything, but are still breathing? There are no answers here, but there’s a well of delicate sadness in Arsenault’s instrumentation that seems to speak to the question, even more than Rawding’s lyrics. The answer is ineffable, and can’t be spoken with words alone. When the album concludes with “The Day Llewelyn Died,” an overt mulling of Americana, Rawding widens the lens, taking a sense of grief that had seemed personal and expanding it to an unthinkable scale: “The church still stands in disrepair,” he sings, “As a sad reminder of what happened there/And every stone that falls to the ground/Is for another soul buried in that town.”
Grief is always personal, and if there’s a lesson to be learned from “Ghost Lands,” it’s that ultimately it burns at us all. It’s an ashen sort of realization, but as the last notes pass, there’s a feeling of relief, a sense of being clean, of being able to start again.
The Marshall Pass is
Craig Rawding vocals
Duncan Arsenault guitars
Produced by Duncan Arsenault
Mastered by Paul Dagnello
Artwork by Duncan Arsenault
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