The A.J. Ghent Band has been one of the best kept secrets in the burgeoning Atlanta music scene for a couple years. Bandleader A.J. Ghent’s virtuosic lap steel playing has allowed him to open for and sit in with heavyweights like Gov’t Mule, the Allman Brothers, Zac Brown Band and Robert Cray. Now, with the release of its debut album, “Live At Terminal West” on Blue Corn Music, the A.J. Ghent Band’s brand of soulful rock can no longer be kept under wraps.
Ghent began playing the lap steel guitar while still a kid, inspired by his family’s rich history with the instrument. His great uncle Willie Eason helped to popularize the gospel lap steel in the early 1900s and his father Aubrey Ghent currently tours with the Slide Brothers on steel guitar. Ghent busted his lap guitar chops in West Palm Beach, Florida and eventually Atlanta, Georgia before catching the eye of jam band icon Col. Bruce Hampton. Under Hampton’s tutelage, Ghent embraced his spontaneous musical nature and looked to push the envelope of what a lap steel can sound and look like. Ghent now plays an eight-string lap steel and Telecaster guitar hybrid and the A.J. Ghent Band mixes a love for soul, old-school R&B and rock into a creation that is all its own.
The decision to release a live album as the band’s debut album was a great one. “Live At Terminal West” captures the enthusiasm and energy of Ghent and his live show that surely wouldn’t have translated as well on a studio effort. “Can’t Be Your Dog” is a funky blues number that hums along before Ghent rips into two reprises, à la James Brown, that really picked up the energy. “Keep On Working” is an uplifting tune with Ghent singing, “Keep on working/ The sun will shine again,” to a sunny rhythm that is extended into the beautiful and appropriately titled “Keep On Working Jam.” The colorful jam slips between Ghent’s exquisite slide work and the peaceful vocal offerings of his backup singers MarLa Ghent (wife) and Tiffany Ghent Belle (sister). In addition to a full fledged jam on the record, most of the songs boast times upwards of five minutes, which allow Ghent and his band members to flex their collective musical muscle with high-powered solos and tight rhythms.
Ghent’s soloing abilities certainly take center stage on the confessional “It Ain’t Easy” where his guitar soars from subdued to ecstatic, and on “Trickin’ Cheater,” Ghent’s Delta blues machismo drives the song with a fieriness comparable to Robert Cray. Because of his lap steel origins, Ghent’s guitar tone and playing certainly resembles steel guitarist Robert Randolph, but Ghent’s work is not quite as explosive as Randolph’s revival tent playing. However, while Randolph and his guitar are the centerpiece of his band, Ghent seems to have created a sound that is more inclusive of the band members’ talents and musical influences.
The band is a good fit behind Ghent’s passionate playing. Seth Watters (bass), Gary Paulo (guitar/saxophone), Will Groth (drums) and the aforementioned backing vocals of his family define the band’s rock and soul sound just as much as Ghent. The electric doo-wop of “Dancin’” is a perfectly perky number, while “Watch What You Do” exemplifies the delectable crossbreeding of styles Ghent and his band are capable of. The song kicks off with punchy-soul infectiousness behind Paulo’s saxophone and Ghent’s soulful singing. It then takes a divine turn as the band slips into a gospel groove and Ghent’s playing cascades over his wife’s delicate singing. There is a fine balance between power and sensitivity in the song which highlights Ghent’s ability to craft engaging musical parts.
As long as Ghent continues to nurture his band’s sound and impress crowds with his keen live show, he’s going to keep working. For now the sun is shining brightly on the A.J. Ghent Band.
The A.J. Ghent Band is playing a free show at the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room on May 24.
- The A.J. Ghent Band
“Live At Terminal West”
Blue Corn Music
Release: April 7, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Keep On Working Jam,” “Watch What You Do”