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Album Review: Sean Hopkins “Chasing Ghosts in the Dark”

New Hope, PA’s Sean Hopkins has garnered deserved acclaim for his collection Chasing Ghosts in the Dark. The dozen songs he’s composed for the release began with his voice and an acoustic guitar, but he’s expanded on that vision without ever losing the core intimacy of his sound.

The adornments, however, always err on the side of restraint. There’s a smattering of piano, light pseudo-classical strands driven by judicious keyboards, and even additions as simple as the sound of tolling bells enrich the atmosphere of his material. His lyrical acumen is a highlight of the tracks, as well, and never fails to embrace brevity over purple self-indulgence. These are songs grounded  by interior realities, yet each one achieves the necessary universality to resonate with a wide swath of listeners.

“All I Ever Wanted” begins the album with an outright love song. It’s the mournful variety, however, and the lonesome punctuation of electric guitar scattered throughout the song nicely contrasts the languid tempo. Straight forward drumming imbues the performance with an impetus it would otherwise lack and never oversteps. Hopkins’ voice possesses genuine vulnerability without ever sounding twee or coy.

“Light Shades Grey” emphasizes an even greater degree of personal reflection as Hopkins contends with the vagaries of aging and maintaining love in the face of its inexorable tide. It introduces us, however, to a different side of his talents as the vocal arrangement has a variety we don’t hear in the opener. Piano makes an appearance as well and its rolling melodic touch further lightens an already dream-like meditation.

He hits one of the album’s highlight moments with the song “Winter’s Breath”. It opens with atmospheric guitar sounding out stark notes harbinger what’s to come. This is a profoundly lonely song, barren of companionship, and the marriage of artful electric guitar with simple yet intensely lyrical acoustic playing is a perfect pairing. Listeners will relish his eye for significant lyrical details.

The same near-ominous air pervading “Winter’s Breath” fills “Never Say Never” as well. It has a stronger pacing, however, and there’s a depth of dynamics in the cut missing from many of the album’s songs. The signature electric guitar lines laden throughout the song put an unique signature of the composition. We’re back in familiar folk-inspired territory with the song “A Longful Farewell”. These are gossamer-like performances, it sounds as if they are hardly tethered to earth, yet they touch listeners with a delicate ghostly ambiance that marks the album as a whole.

The title song continues in a singer/songwriter vein. Loneliness, once again, dominates his musings. Touches of piano and a deeply melodic vocal redeem the despair. It takes several interesting turns as the performance develops and listeners paying attention to the lyrics may get the sense of Hopkins working on a larger screen than before. It encapsulates all of the best qualities driving these songs without ever imitating what comes before or after. Sean Hopkins has delivered an album rooted in deep traditions without the songs ever sounding like butterflies pinned under glass. These songs are far more alive than their relatively sedate delivery may suggest.


Loren Sperry



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