Mike Grogan – Too Many Ghosts

Album Review | Poacher Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

Too Many Ghosts is Mike Grogan’s third album and his fourth release. It follows a significant gap after Make Me Strong, his last album. Clearly Mike has spent the time playing and reflecting, as there is a significant shift and refinement, that much is obvious from the first moment of the first track. The wonderfully rich voice that gave us “The Light of the World” on Make Me Strong is still there as is his fine fingerpicking guitar, but there is a swagger, a presence, that lifts the whole album. “Show Them What Love Can Do” just smoulders and burns. It opens with a chorus vocal and a Phil Beer’s fiery violin, but quickly builds to a sound that is more Elbow and Guy Garvey than Festival Folk Tent. You know that the infectious chorus is going to sound amazing picked up by a large beery crowd part way through a set as the sun is going down. The violin is joined by an express train guitar and the song dissolves into that chorus and you know it will last forever at the end of a gig. “Let Me Feel the Rain” is a perfect adult pop song, after a beer, if this came on the jukebox most people would agree that it’s an excellent song and swear blind that Robbie Williams has found his mojo again. Mike croons and pulls at your heartstrings like the best of the old school crooners. Wonderful keyboards on this track and through the album by John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, a man with real studio chops. The title track turns the acoustic folk back up with mandolin trills and gentle swells of accordion, but Mike makes it timeless by laying down another killer perfectly paced ear-worm chorus duetting with Miranda Sykes. The Way continues the folky vibe, heartfelt lyrics, tasteful percussion and a perfect stripped back middle section of voice violin and piano. Powerful chorus is provided by The Green Man Folk Club in Alton, proof that Mike Grogan is the pied piper when it comes an infectious singalong. I wonder if he tapes all his gigs for the next album, just in case. Jokes aside perhaps the strength of the material and his delivery is that it is all road tested and as familiar as a vintage Martin D-28. “Big Ships” is one of those hairs on the back of the neck songs. It opens with some atmospherics and violin that place it in Show of Hands’ territory and Grogan’s warm weathered voice paired with a rolling violin makes an excellent job of it. If you are going to record with Mike Tucker, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes then Show Of Hands are the elephant in the room. I don’t think it diminishes or demeans what Grogan does with his fine song writing and strong voice to make the connection. “Hallelujah” is a fine song that recalls the intelligent contemporary rock music of Elbow and includes some particularly poignant lyrics. “Underground”, like much of the album, is a collision of old and new, a wheezing pump organ opens the track but is joined by a looped chorus and a pulsing electronic beat and a wonderfully Floydian vocal from Miranda Sykes. Mike’s lyric draws on mining imagery and paints a powerful picture, amplified by some very intelligent backing. The track is supremely evocative, the spirits of Tin Miners, Colliers, First World War Sappers and blitz scarred civilians are all crouched terrified in the dark with us. Perhaps we are all, in some way trapped and in a time of darkness. A perfect song, a folk song for the future and very much like Mike Grogan, screaming for wider exposure. If they ever film Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams Tunnels series of books, here is the theme music. Heaven Is Here and Goodnight end the album in an upbeat pairing. “Goodnight” especially is heartfelt, a stripped back voice and guitar joined by piano and accordion. With more than a nod to Dylan’s “Forever Young”, it sounds like a benediction, written to close proceedings as an encore after a fine gig.