Let's Hear It For Us

Celebrating Five Years of Ghostmeat Making Records the Old Fashioned Way

Mary Jessica Hammes, Flagpole Magazine, May 1999

"There's a whole group of people that went to school here," explains Tony Tidwell. He's talking about Clemson, South Carolina, the college town where Ghostmeat Records was conceived in 1994, and where he still lives. "They're all scattered across the country now," he continues, "and I think this label is an excuse to get together and get hammered and take insulting pictures of ourselves."

That certainly may be one reason behind Ghostmeat's existence - one that will surely manifest itself at the label's fifth anniversary party this weekend. The real impetus for Ghostmeat, though, is a rare bond among a distinct circle of Southern musicians, a bond driven by a sincerity that Tidwell says harkens back to "the old fashioned way, where you shake hands and are friends with people."

"Russ is one of my best friends," says David Dondero of Ghostmeat founder, Russ Hallauer. Pensacola native Dondero recently released a solo album on the Athens label and also drums for This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, another Ghostmeat combo. The record label that started in 1994 only as a means to produce a single from Sunbrain, Hallauer's and Dondero's former ensemble, has to date released 29 albums, which include material from close to 130 bands from Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. In the spirit of celebration, Hallauer culled 18 songs from those 29 releases to produce the 5th Ghostmeat Anniversary CD.

Though Ghostmeat has grown over time, label-mates insist that the aforementioned friendliness has thrived. Indeed, to hear Dondero speak of it, business transactions consist of recording sessions akin to drinking with old college buddies. Says Hallauer: "We've never done any contracts with bands, because we never deal with strangers. It's people you drink beer with."

Though a compilation rarely satisfies with every track, the anniversary CD offers a varied enough representation of the Ghostmeat catalogue. In fact, just when a unifying sound is about to be pegged, the next track destroys all sense of cohesion. The throttling pop of Sunbrain mingles with the country-tinged folk and rock of The Fountains, 6 String Drag, Tony Tidwell and the Drive-By Truckers. The dark, growling Vaudeville and the lighter, melodic mirth of The Lures sit alongside straight-ahead rockers Hayride and Drip. Both Dondero and recent Athens transplant Jennifer Goree offer gentle, pretty, and nostalgic numbers, the former sounding a bit like Nick Drake.

"It's pretty whacked," admits Hallauer, referring to a lack of musical unity. That might be the appeal; it's part of what attracted Hayride to the label, says bassist Nick Bielli, who calls Ghostmeat both "natural" and "organic." "Nothing's forced about it," says Bielli. "There's no one type of band on the label. It's versatile, diverse."

In testament to its versatility, Ghostmeat's pre-anniversary party on Friday night and the actual anniversary party on Saturday lump together many of the bands on the album as well as those "who don't really exist," says Hallauer. Some of these bands are joining forces just for this occasion, while others are defunct units regrouping for the first time in a while, such as Sunbrain. The whole messy affair ends when the Drive-By Truckers begin their set at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, reportedly having insisted on playing as the taps are cut off and the locals start staggering out of the bars. It'll be a fitting close for the night.

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