If Greensboro's Holy Ghost Tent Revival isn't a band of musical time-travelers, it's at least happy to play the part. With the mischievous air of a Mark Twain yarn, So Long I Screamed conjures images of eras spent rambling from town to town, hopping between riverboats and trains, joshing with the locals, romancing with their daughters, and throwing back whiskey on the sly.
Skirting and leaping beyond the boundaries of their ancestral genres, Holy Ghost punctuates ragtime with horns ("Getting Over Your Love"), pierces jump blues with shouts ("Honey Beware"), and peppers folk with barbershop style ("Steamboat"). The jittery swing of "Needing You" transforms into a doo-wop waltz take on Felice & Boudleaux Bryant's "All I Have to Do Is Dream." The bluesy slide guitar solo that begins "Lovin Man" relents to a horn-heavy crawl, ultimately erupting into a spiraling climax of voice and brass. When several of these moments are crammed into a single song, the elements converge for a raucous rollercoaster ride. "Walking Over My Grave," for instance, cuts from honeyed "oh-la-la" backing vocals to a swinging, four-bar trumpet solo to a duet with trombone before tearing into a handclap-filled, gang-vocal breakdown. Just as Stephen Murray's voice and banjo surface to carry the song away, it launches back into a coda of dueling vocals. All those adventures in about two minutes, mind you. As with many of So Long's tracks, it's as impossible to declare one section the bridge as it is to call another the chorus.
While the band's becoming known for getting the most staid crowds on their feet, Holy Ghost keeps people on their toes as well. This sextet of loose cannons catches listeners off guard by throwing sharp curveballs at just the right moments and—more often than not on this worthy debut—making 'em count.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival plays Local 506 Thursday, Jan. 22. The New Familiars headlines the $8 show, which starts at 9:30 p.m.