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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Face the Music with Aimsel Ponti
Posted: October 20, 2015

The Ghosts of Johnson City resurrect Civil War tunes with debut album ‘Am I Born To Die?’

 

The Ghosts of Johnson City. Courtesy photo

The Ghosts of Johnson City. Courtesy photo

Portland band The Ghosts of Johnson City have released “Am I Born To Die?” a stunning debut record. On it is a collection of old mountain music, Civil War songs, coal mining tunes, songs of loss as well as haunting and murder ballads from the American South. In other words, the CD is one part history lesson, one part spiritual sojourn into days long past and one part fantastic.


More weekend music: Debo Band, North of Nashville and Whitney Rose


The band’s lead vocalist and banjo player is Amos Libby who you may know from the middle-eastern music ensemble Okbari. The band got its name from Libby’s early childhood summers spent his father in Jonesborough and Johnson City, Tennessee. Libby lost his father in 2003 and the two had been estranged for many years prior to that. However in January Libby returned to Tennessee and met with his dad’s adopted daughter who gifted him with his father’s guitar, one that Libby hadn’t heard played since he was a kid. Libby says on the band’s website that “the guitar is an embodiment of days and people that are now gone; memories from a time and place that inspire the music of The Ghosts of Johnson City.” The rest of the band is Douglas porter on guitar and vocals, Erik Neilson on baritone ukulele and vocals and Erik Winter on Harmonium.

“Am I Born To Die” is 15 songs that speak of death, loss, poverty, murder and ghosts and many are set during the Civil War, though a few are even older. By the end of the last song, the body and widow count is high yet, I found my spirits had been lifted by the poignancy of the storytelling and certainly by the musicianship. With “The Dying Californian,” the lyrics are said to be based on a letter which told of the death of a New Englander while at sea en route to California during the 1849 Gold Rush. Many didn’t survive the long voyage and succumbed to starvation, disease, exhaustion or shipwreck. “I am dying brother, dying/Soon you’ll miss me in your berth/For my form will soon be lying/’Neath the ocean’s brinny surf.”

“Jack Monroe” is a logging tragedy song that is believed to have originated in either Northern New England or Canada. “They had not rolled off many logs ’till they heard his clear voice say ‘I’d have you boys be on your guard, for the jam willing soon give way.’ These words he’d scarcely spoken when the jam did break and go/While crushed and bleeding near the banks, lay the foreman, Young Monroe.”

The upbeat “Darling Corey” is an Appalachian bootlegging song and of my favorites on the album. “Wake up wake up my darling Corey/And go get me my gun/I ain’t no man for fighting/But I’ll die before I run.” I know, it’s not exactly cheery material but The Ghosts of Johnson City’s resurrection of it make for a lively, listen-able song that gets stuck in your head.

You’ll hear many, if not all, of the songs on “Am I Born to Die” at the Saturday night CD release show. The band chose two terrific openers in the form of Dark Hollow Bottling Co. and Welterweight who both have a keen appreciation for acoustic, Americana, bluegrass and new-timey string music.

The Ghosts of Johnson City with Dark Hallow Bottling Company and Welterweight. 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Portland House of Music & Events, 25 Temple St., Portland, $8, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com

 

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