Jeff Hart's music suggests a new friend whose company becomes increasingly pleasurable the more time you spend in his presence. Hart's distinctive baritone possesses a slight twang and an easygoing manner. Those qualities make his songs flow by with such grace that there's a tendency to let them pass by unencumbered—only to discover they've settled in and become guests.
Perhaps that pleasantness is what's kept Hart out of the spotlight during the last several decades; lucky for us, he's kept writing, undiscouraged. These 14 unreleased tunes have collected like diary entries over the last 16 years, or how long it's been since Hart's last solo album. Fueled by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $3,000, Hart started from an initial batch of 50 tunes, whittling them down to this diverse collection. Built on a base of country twang but finished with touches of British Invasion rock, '60s garage pop, '70s Laurel Canyon and, of course, native North Carolina bluegrass and jangle pop, Ghosts of the Old North State reveals Hart as an equally fine collector and creator.
There are too many highlights to list, like the plaintive Black Crowes-ish "I Won't Stop At Anything," embellished with tasteful strings and a reference to The Graduate, and the rich harmonies and jangly melody of "She Won't Ever Be Happy." The pretty two-minute psych-pop winner "Goodbye Anne Shore Goodbye" strikes a contrast with the aching waltz "Wayfaring Stranger." Horns even aid "Put Out a Fire," which could pass for a '60s pop anthem. "Margerite" nods to Seger, and "Sandie Shaw" hints (perhaps unintentionally) at Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." Hart's an interesting writer, too, adding little bits of humor across the album. During "All Along the Wallflower," a wounded husband recalls his final memory of his wife, as she screams, "How do I reload this thing?"
Mostly, though, you're just struck by how easily Hart adds or subtracts nuances to fashion an eclectic disc that still holds together nicely. Favoring subtlety over flash, Ghosts is a grower that quickly becomes your best pal.