It takes a very special artist to collaborate with Flotsam and Jetsam, Killing Joke, the Dirtbombs, and Spiritualized, and Troy Gregory is just that kind of musician. While Gregory has an impressive and eclectic résumé, some of his best work has also been his least appreciated, namely the albums he cut with his band the Witches. A revolving collective of Detroit musicians (members of the Electric Six, Outrageous Cherry, the Sights, the Go, and Larval all played with the group between 1996 and 2007) with Gregory as the leader and principle songwriter, the Witches offered up a deliciously twisted take on classic pop in which the dark throb of the Velvet Underground squares off against various archetypes of mid-‘60s rock & roll (psychedelia, bubblegum, and garage rock) in the midst of a seance. Unfortunately, the Witches' body of recorded work has appeared on small independent labels that have been poorly distributed outside the Midwest, but Alive Natural Sound Records have given their music the second chance it richly deserves with A Haunted Person's Guide to the Witches, a 12-song collection that features representative tracks from the group's four albums as well as a tune from their unreleased debut, Everything Changes Reality, and two unreleased performances. Considering this album was assembled from songs recorded over the space of 11 years, it's a pleasant surprise that A Haunted Person's Guide coheres like a proper album rather than a compilation; the dark echoes, insistent rhythms, dark but tasty melodies, and playfully surreal lyrics are a constant throughout, as are Gregory's rich vocals, passionate with just the right touch of period sneer, and the impressive musicianship from his various accompanists. If this album has a flaw, it's that at just 37 minutes, it leaves out more memorable material from the Witches than it includes, and a 20-song set could have given the band the proper, full-bodied anthology they merit. But as an introduction to a group that deserves a significantly higher profile, A Haunted Person's Guide to the Witches leaves little doubt Gregory and his associates have made some brilliant, idiosyncratic pop music, and if you like your music tuneful, a wee bit creepy, and lots of fun to sing along with, then you and the Witches were made for one another, and this album will show you why in concise, convincing fashion.
© Mark Deming /TiVo