Sometimes it pays to go back to basics.

Not pays off commercially, mind you, but rather doing so as a way to get your bearings and remind yourself, the record label and the audience that the root source of this music was often found in simple addicting grooves played by a tight band with the right attitude.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Oh, and if you can toss a really cool title in on top of that for an instrumental, then so much the better.


All Aboard
With all of the vocal records that have been released with trumpeter Joe Morris as the lead credited artist over the past few years, you might have forgotten that when starting out all of his singles were instrumentals.

Of course back in the late 1940’s rock scene, the instrumental was the best means for scoring a hit… something Morris failed to do, at least on a national level. But when he added singer Laurie Tate that’s when he clicked with the broader public and between Tate’s vocals, or those of Billy Mitchell, a moonlighting Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis, or even Morris himself, much of his work in the 1950’s has been focused on the singer.

That alone makes Ghost Train something of a throwback for Morris, not just because there’s not a peep out of anyone to be found on this record, but also because stylistically this would’ve fit perfectly in 1948… and no, that’s not a criticism.

Though trends change and keeping up with those is always for the best if you want to stay relevant, it’s not as if what Morris and company conjure up here was the the dominant sound of five years back, hauled out of mothballs for a re-airing now.

If that were the case this would be packed with honking, squealing saxophones creating a racket, whereas this – maybe as evidenced by the title – is a mood piece looking to raise the dead in a different way.

It’s a bit like Todd Rhodes’ classic Blues For The Red Boy, which as we speak was being used by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed as his theme song, and for all we know maybe Morris caught wind of that and wanted to cash in.

Whatever the case, this isn’t a record that will get you dancing, nor will it be suitable for a rumble or a drag race, and it’s not something to lay around your room bemoaning your dying romantic prospects.

Instead this is a song best heard late at night or early in the morning, either just before passing out after a wild night on the town or right after emerging from your drunken stupor the next morning… either way it’ll be a time when you’re sure to see a few ghosts appearing in your blurred vision.


Last Stop
As we just mentioned yesterday when criticizing the trumpet-led arrangement for the latest Marie Adams record, that instrument has a very uneasy place in rock ‘n’ roll and considering that Joe Morris is a trumpet player – and this is an instrumental record rather than a vocal performance to boot – you’d think that might spell trouble for him.

After all, he no longer has the great Johnny Griffin on saxophone to bask in the spotlight, and so when we tell you that Morris indeed plays a big role here, you might think it better to let this one pass you by.

Instead Morris shows the one role in which the trumpet excelled from the start in rock, which is replicating the distinct sound of trains, or at least the musical interpretation of that sound.

Here, after a creeping piano riff, the droning horns come in and you are immediately right next to the tracks listening to this Ghost Train approaching. It’s a haunting sound, one which may have added impact on you if you consider that in the past trains were almost always the means with which coffins were transported when somebody died far away from where they were going to be buried.

That’s clearly the intent here, to elicit that kind of scene, yet rather than create a dour mood it’s actually one of morbid curiosity, for I suppose as long as you’re not the one inside one of those coffins you might as well peer in for a closer look to see what awaits you one day.

The dueling riffs – monotonous piano and crying horns – dovetail nicely and when the saxophone emerges from the haze to add a melody line that doesn’t upend the atmosphere the others are laying down, but adds something a little livelier to the proceedings you might even find your shoulders involuntarily swaying along.

The solo dials it back, playing as few notes as possible to still qualify as a solo, and with its lower tone and more distant sound, as if the sax was disappearing into the great beyond as you listened, it extends this uneasy vibe in a different but no less effective way.

Ghost Train was actually part one of a longer piece, the second half of which never saw release, which is a shame considering how good the first part is, but it was already a year and a half old by this point, having been cut in January 1951. Why they waited so long to issue it is beyond me, but luckily for them it’s a somewhat timeless performance, one that is reliant on creating a semi-spooky ambiance rather than following the latest trend.

Maybe that’s reason enough not to get too enthused about a resurrected cast-off from the vaults, certainly it’s not commercial as a single in its own right in 1952, but that’s also part of its charm. It’s a reminder that even though something’s time has passed, the spirit of it can still be felt floating through the night air every now and then.


(Visit the Artist page of Joe Morris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)