Keeton Coffman, The Ghost EP
These days, it seems, Keeton Coffman’s a changed man. When I first ran across Coffman, he was the frontman for The 71’s, a well-respected alt-/indie-rock outfit, and I was a bit bemused, I’ll admit — live, he was so wild and bombastic and over-the-top that it seemed almost put on, like a persona he was wearing, That Crazy Rock Guy, complete with overblown stage antics. I liked the music, definitely, but on the whole, I kind of shrugged ’em off.
Then they released We Are The Seventy Ones, which was one of my favorite albums from 2012, and I was psyched. The album is/was a full stack of excellent, ballsy rawk that felt like it pointed the way the band was headed. In the end, it pointed to something very different — not long after the album’s release, The 71’s announced they’d be going on some sort of hiatus for the forseeable future.
When Coffman popped back up as a solo artist, I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly; I caught some of his early demo tracks and was surprised to hear something that was a 180 from what his band had been doing, particularly on their final release. It wasn’t rock, really, at all, but rather stark, depressive country-folk, the kind that sounded like it was recorded late at night and alone in his bedroom.
And yes, it was good. So I had higher hopes when last year’s Stumble On Love EP came out, and it pretty easily surpassed them, producing one of my absolute-favorite songs of 2013 with “The Prayer.” Coffman sounded like he was starting to find his footing in this new world he’d been navigating.
Fast-forward to now, and here comes the new EP, The Ghost. It’s not Stumble On Love, it’s true, in that there are fewer songs that jump right out and grab you by the throat and won’t let go, but it’s just as incredible in its own way. It’s the kind of release that needs a little time to grow on you, that’s all, but by the time you realized it has, its hooks are sunk in good and deep.
Coffman starts things off with “The Hunted And The Hunter,” a delicate, piano-driven track that has a subtle, understated beauty to it (and yes, which makes me think of Ben Folds at points), before shifting into jangly, countrified single “The Letter,” where he revs up into Springsteen territory, rambling and rolling on down the road. It’s an interesting song lyrically, as well, with an oddly possessive twist to the lyrics that kind of makes me twitch; despite the overt sweetness and passion of the song itself, the song’s protagonist isn’t necessarily a saint.
The same goes for one of the album’s highlights, “The Magician” — it’s murky and sinister, but with gospel overtones at the same time. Cruel as it can be, though, it’s also alluring at the same time, a thoroughly addictive track that strolls smoothly through the dark places. You want to believe Coffman when he croons, “You’re my only one,” even though he just quietly mocked the object of the song for believing his love was real barely a breath before.
In-between, the EP hits a somber note with “The Morning Sun,” which starts off quiet but steadily rises to an impassioned, driving crescendo by the end, retaining an air of melancholy the whole way through (and I love those gorgeous arpeggios at the halfway mark), and meanders gently past with “The Ghost,” all soft, finger-picked sadness.
In a tie with “The Magician” for my favorite track on the album is closer “The Ocean,” which for once brings to mind a NJ native who’s not Bruce Springsteen; rather, the song comes off like one of Jon Bon Jovi’s more roots-rock tracks, a rough-edged chunk of arena rock that’s perfectly made for pumping your fist in the air. It’s got great, Neil Young-esque, just-distorted-enough guitars, a warbly, watery (appropriately, given the title) bassline, treated vocals in the verses, and a rock-solid drumbeat anchoring it all.
It’s almost like Coffman’s finishing up by saying, “hey, don’t forget that I can still do that other stuff, too.” By the time The Ghost comes to a close, I’m ready to hear it all again, start to finish, and maybe a couple more times after that, to boot.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have guessed that the bombastic guy dancing around the Fitzgerald’s stage would’ve made his way to where he is now, but I’m damned glad to see Keeton Coffman’s grown and learned and found the place where he truly, truly belongs. It turns out We Are The Seventy Ones was just the warm-up, and that’s no bad thing.