Olivia Jean: Raving Ghost [Album Review]

Olivia Jean
Raving Ghost
Third Man Records [2023]

Back in 2019, when Olivia Jean was opening for The Raconteurs on tour The Fire Note review assessed that her mix of ‘50’s rock & roll, surf guitar sounds, girl group harmonies, and a definitive punk DIY attitude made for “some fun rock & roll nostalgia presented with plenty of punk grit.” While that unique list of ingredients are still present on her third solo release, she’s developed a more integrated, increasingly relevant, heavier modern rock sound on Raving Ghost. A lot of the growth is evident in the writing, but part of the overall improved sound has a lot to with the fact that Jean, who’s recorded all the instruments to her songs in the past, is recording here with the aid of drummers Patrick Keeper (The Raconteurs) and Carla Azar (T Bone Burnett), and Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket) on keyboards, while she maintains her role as producer.

Opening with the album’s title track, there’s a bit Siouxsie and the Banshees in the gothy ghostly vibe and sophisticated rhythmic under-pinning, before things turn heavy and Jean plays a rocking solo. “Too Late” follows and it’s 80’s electro-pop with a Go-Go’s vibe, while “The Spider” mixes a big, ominous metal guitar hook with the dangerous synth sound provided Roger Joseph Manning Jr (Jellyfish). When she sings “I’m just too much for you,” and then launches into an intense guitar solo you begin to suspect just that.

With each track, Jean has designed a unique sound to match the narrative she’s created and the character she embodies. But sometimes she’s just playing for “Fun,” and nothing here is more fun than her fast punky take on Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” which you may not recognize until she gets to that “sail away, sail away” chorus, but the overall effect is quite delirious. She can quiet things down too, as she does at the beginning of “Godmother” and in the set closing “Don’t Leave,” where her surf roots come out to play, but when the full band joins in the intensity returns and she really gives her fretboard a real work out.

A lot has changed in the last four years, including Olivia Jean getting married to Jack White on stage in Detroit last year. For fans of her music, she has matured and developed as both a songwriter and a player, and Raving Ghost reveals her ability to expand her musical vocabulary, building upon her influences to make a statement that celebrates her talent fully.

“Too Late” / “Raving Ghost” / “Orinoco Flow”

Siouxsie and the Banshees / Babes In Toyland / The GoGo’s

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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