Ghosts on the Road
Ghosts on the Road
Review by Kent Manthie
Let me introduce you to Justin Portz. He is the driving force behind Ghosts on the Road. This eponymously titled debut has just come out. On the album, it’s pretty much all Justin, playing the instruments, but, for live shows, he’ll put together a nice assembly of musicians with whom to work. I read a description of this and it read that the live shows are loose collections of willing friends
The opening number, “Dismal Midnight Hours” is the opening number and it works as a great way to start off the album. It really pulls you in; there’s a sense of excitement and as “Dismal Midnight Hours” is a fiery opener, it’s a great way to get people to keep listening (i.e., those who’ve never heard of Ghosts on the Road).
Portz was born in Southern Illinois and has, over the years, gone back and forth between Kansas City and St. Louis. So, basically, Justin’s a Midwestern guy. Not from some entertainment company-town, no, far enough away that he isn’t pressured externally or internally, from trying to be like what one sees on TV, etc. A lot of bands who come from various towns, dotted all through the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, or, Chicago -a lot of interesting, damn good bands have come out of Chicago.
Well, the songs on Ghosts on the Road are certainly different from the typical pop fluff one hears on the radio. While there is pretty much a “rock” band, they do have some interesting influences which make their way onto the album; a little bit of alt-country (i.e., nothing like the typical country stereotypes, eg, Garth Brooks, Randy Jackson (isn’t there an Alan Jackson too?) as well as someone like Taylor Swift, who can’t seem to make up her mind whether she wants to be a pop star or a country cowgirl. I’d say that the little bit of country licks Portz puts in here, work well because they seem to have close ties to blues-y music, giving the music a little extra “punch”
When you queue up the album and start playing it, the opening tune, “Dismal Midnight Hours” is a perfect way to get one’s attention. One of the things you can pick up from listening to Justin singing is that he has a strong voice – one that really helps to punctuate the song itself. He’s also a good guitarist, playing a nice, fluid solo, for instance, on the opener. But besides soloing, Portz is also good at maintaining a nice, crisp, rhythm guitar.
All eight songs on Ghosts on the Road are played and sung with sincere emotion. Portz’s alto (I think; it isn’t so deep as to be a baritone) voice is a strong one; his plaintive wails are part of what give the songs (e.g., “Blotto”, “Haunted”, “Sirens” and “Crash and Burn”). “Dead Letter” trades off crisp, clean guitar licks with Justin’s distinct voice, which has this natural projectionability – he’s able to reach from deep down in the diaphragm, to bring up a powerful, dynamic voice.
This is one album which, not having heard anything before by Justin, really impresses me. It also has some great production as well as superb engineering. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen and/or buy it, sound unheard. Take my word for it. If you want a good place to both give it a listen as well as purchase it, try http://ghostsontheroad.com/ – it’ll take you to their Bandcamp page, where you can thus proceed.
Keep an eye out for Justin Portz and Ghosts on the Road. More coming soon. I’ll try to keep abreast of what’s happening with Justin. Hope you get a chance to hear as much of Ghosts on the Road as you can! –KM.