21. Cecile McLorin Salvant: Ghost Song

Christmas. It’s the time for ghost stories, isn’t it? This year, it’s also the time for ghost songs. Well, Ghost Song, to be precise. Cecile McLorin Salvant’s stunning album is a worthy addition to the Musical Advent.

Ghost Song is an album that is bold, innovative, ambitious and jaw-droppingly, expansively brilliant. Just take those first two tracks. Salvant chooses to open with a cover of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. It is echoing and ethereal and minimalist; everything that a narrator out on the wild and windy moors should sound like. Salvant delivers the first couple of minutes acapella; her voice intimate and vulnerable. 

From there, we slip into Optimistic Voices, from The Wizard Of Oz. It’s ludicrous, in a magnificent way. But the real impact comes when we segue from that skittery show tune into Salvant’s sublime take on Gregory Porter’s No Love Dying. It’s difficult to think of many artists who would set the tone in this way. No Love Dying is followed by the album’s title track. Based upon the idea that nothing dies, it is an outstanding soul ballad elevated by the pain in Salvant’s voice. It’s the one track that I return to on this collection time after time.

One of the truly fascinating things about Ghost Song (the album) is Salvant’s ability to adopt a different identity on each tune. Here, she is an actor as much as singer, using that velvet-like voice to project different personas. In doing so, she brings a theatrical and very visual aspect to the music. The album’s longest track, Until, is the perfect example of this in microcosm. It begins as a piano and voice torch song until Sullivan Fortner’s piano leads us on a journey in this jazz extravaganza. Later, the cover of Kurt Weil’s The World Is Mean oozes drama and is incredible fun.  

Salvant is an incredible talent. Whether delivering her own compositions or putting her own spin on those imaginative covers, she nails it every single time on Ghost Song. Musically, it is a triumph and, whilst this is something of a cliché, I can say in all honesty that you are unlikely to come across another album that is quite like Ghost Song this year.    

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