Sweet Ghosts at Oberon's
Tucson, Ariz.-based Sweet Ghosts is an Americana and folk project with Ryan Alfred — standup bassist for Calexico — and professional vocalist Katherine Byrnes. The duo formed in 2011, playing the angle of folk and Americana music colored with otherwordly vocal harmonies and subtle elements of electronic music centered on strong songwriting.
"We've got some of the more spacey, atmospheric stuff inspired by Pink Floyd, and we listened to a lot of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge duets when we first got together," Alfred says. "We're also big fans of The Swell Season, a folk rock duo who did the music for 'Once,' the movie."
Sweet Ghosts formed in 2011 and began playing small gigs here and there.
"I'd seen Katherine performing around town," Alfred says. "She was singing for blues bands, swing bands, theater groups, even once for Calexico. She studied at the University of Arizona with Jeff Haskell, head of jazz studies there. I really liked her voice."
Alfred and Byrnes began working on a record together and released "Certain Truths" in April. Earlier this year, the duo toured to promote the album in New Orleans, Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.
Recorded at Wavelab Studio in Tucson (home to Neko Case, Clexico, Devotchka and others), "Certain Truths" is Sweet Ghosts' "gloriously heart-wrenching debut," according to Zocalo Magazine.
Tucson Weekly wrote: "Rooted in classic folk and country songwriting and painted lushly with the ethereal ambience of both orchestral instruments and electronic flourishes, the central focus of the record is the pair's stunning, rarely predictable harmonies."
"The effect is like those great Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge ballads, with a small ensemble of strings and piano behind them, and soft synths bubbling and swirling in the distance, both out of time and timeless," wrote Java Magazine.
Sweet Ghosts starts a West Coast tour today with shows in Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco before stopping in Ashland for a show at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at Oberon's Tavern, 45 N. Main St., Ashland. Admission is free. The duo will then move on to Eugene and Portland.
Sweet Ghosts is touring as a trio, with Byrnes on piano, synths and vocals, Alfred on guitar, vocals and various pedals and Austin-based jazz composer Collin Shook on upright bass.
"When we play live, I have a small effects setup for acoustic guitar," Alfred says. "It brings some of the sonic texture of the record to the show. That's one of the interesting things these days. We have access to electronic tools in the studio, but the challenge is recreating it live, without relying on backing tracks."
Alfred and Byrnes are taking advantage of the fact that Calexico isn't touring much this year. The band is busy recording a new album at Wavelab.