What might the soundtrack to the afterlife sound like? Mix Duke Special with Scheherazade and The Addams Family and you might arrive at an answer: Ghost Quartet, a folksy American four-piece who here present a Gothic song cycle replete with murder ballads and campfire drinking songs that spans seven centuries.
The central figure is a woman named Rose, who is sent off on a quest to obtain a drop of honey and a photograph of a ghost. This perhaps speaks to the weird, grainy humour of Ghost Quartet, somewhere between abstract and surreal in their vision of a world full of Snicketian encounters with unnamed family members and strangers by the roadside.
The four musicians play a truly eclectic mix of instruments: Dave Malloy on keyboards and ukulele; Brent Arnold on cello, erhu and dulcimer; Brittain Ashford on autoharp and percussion; Gelsey Bell on Celtic harp, accordion and metallophone. They all sing with crystal, howling harmonies.
It’s unfortunate that the humour is a little too cryptic, the technical design a little too overcooked, and the story a little too scrawled. The group is certainly musically accomplished but to further tilt the balance of this folk gig towards theatre would take things into far more experimental and potentially rewarding territory. There are moments of audience participation, but here they feel more like pointless—albeit fun—gestures. With a weightier sense of theatricality, how might Ghost Quartet truly haunt us with stories of the beyond?