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The Singular Cécile McLorin Salvant

On her latest masterful album, ‘Ghost Song’

On March 7, 2022
Photo by Shawn Michael Jones

Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Cécile McLorin Salvant’s latest release, Ghost Song

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Cécile McLorin Salvant’s career has been a multifaceted journey, steeped with narratives told across every album through the sound of jazz, blues, folk and more. As she worked on her newest album, she plunged deeper and deeper into her artistry, sharing in a press release, “It’s unlike anything I’ve done before — it’s getting closer to reflecting my personality as an eclectic curator. I’m embracing my weirdness!” 

Ghost Song is a blend of covers alongside Salvant’s own original pieces. In the album’s opening song, Salvant belts an unaccompanied, haunting rendition of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” (inspired by the novel of the same title), beginning with a sean-nós — a traditional Irish a cappella style of singing. It’s a style that illuminates her vocal techniques as she seamlessly skips from one note to another. It mirrors the album’s final track, “Unquiet Grave,” an English folk song narrating the tale of a man whose grief disturbs his dead lover, prompting her to coax him into letting her go and enjoying his life. 

Themes of finding love and losing it, ghosts and nostalgia all frequent the lyrics on the album, making its title all the more apt. Its title track, “Ghost Song,” focuses on love lost, with Salvant singing, “I’ll dance with the ghost of our love / I will dance with the ghost of our long lost love.” It drips with the blues — a somber choice to accompany the despondency of yearning. Salvant further shared in the press release for the title single, “What if the love has gone, the love has left you and you have the emotions around that, and you’re still going through them, still engaging with the ghost of that love?” The questions linger in the emotions of every word, both sung and unsung, bleeding into the subsequent tracks.

Both direct and indirect allusions to art approach the album’s subject, with titles like “Optimistic Voices / No Love Dying,” “Until” and “The World Is Mean.” Notably, “Dead Poplar” ties the two beautifully. The lyrics are pulled from a letter written by photographer Alfred Stieglitz to his wife and fellow artist Georgia O’Keeffe. But, it was pulled from a letter during a tumultuous time in their relationship, shortly after O’Keeffe discovered her husband’s infidelity. It’s a quiet, poignant rumination of a now-soured, formerly passionate romance. 

Despite the motifs that border into entirely despairing territory, the beauty of Ghost Song remains, part of which lies in the genuinely unique composition that makes it a new album upon every listen. “All the songs on the album kind of mirror each other. I tried to create this strange symmetry. So as you go in from both ends, the songs are sort of matched together,” Salvant said.

Starting from the beginning and listening chronologically introduces an entirely different story than starting in the middle and working outward. Regardless, Salvant’s stark individuality is ever present in her newest work, more than anything else she has done before. It’s a monument to her songwriting, arrangements and unadulterated brilliance as a three-time Grammy winning artist.  

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Jillian Nguyen

Jillian's origin story began with jam sessions to early 2000s Eurodance tunes, resulting in her current self-proclamations as an EDM aficionado. Jillian has followed her favorite artists to over 15 music festivals and countless concerts.

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