In the years since his last Yellow Dog Records album — acclaimed outing, God’s Tattoos — William Lee Ellis earned a PhD in ethnomusicology and is a professor at a New England college. His musical yearnings never left, however, resulting in this new album. Backed by talented friends in current home state Vermont and abroad, the former Memphis-based songwriter and fleet fingerpicker calls on global players with ties to Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya, Scotland, and elsewhere.
The album’s originals and arrangements draw on a diverse palette from blues, spirituals, and country to Ghanaian high life, Chinese yueqin, and Malagasy guitar. Played on an array of instruments from fretless banjo and slide guitar to Ghanaian percussion and Chinese yueqin, the original tunes of Ghost Hymns offer an expansive view of tradition, visiting blues, gospel, high life, and more in a singular journey.
Godson of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and son of onetime Blue Grass Boy and banjoist/composer Tony Ellis, Ellis fils began life living and breathing roots music. Conservatory training followed as did immersion in the fabled fingerpickers of country blues and street gospel — notably Rev. Gary Davis — leading to three renowned releases in the early aughts. Ghost Hymns is a welcome comeback.