Two wheels, no ghosts

One upside to depression is when it motivates you to get some physical exercise.

Which may be why I’ve found myself riding along the American River Parkway bike trail a little more frequently these days. There’s nothing like a brisk bike ride through our local verdant wonderland to banish any encroaching ghouls from the psyche. And, as with other things, music makes the experience even more groovy.

I’ve been listening to a copy of Jackie Greene’s forthcoming fifth album, Giving Up the Ghost (429 Records, in stores on April 1), on my iPod while riding the trail, which provides an immersion experience kinda like the one grokked by that 1970s guy who disappeared into his bedroom with a new platter, a set of Sennheiser headphones, a bong and a bag of Humboldt’s finest, only to reappear a day or so later to mumble, “Um, I’ve really been gettin’ into the new Jackson Browne album.”

Giving Up the Ghost is what they used to call a “long-player”—there’s no apparent overarching concept; it’s a collection of 12 seemingly unrelated songs. Like Greene’s last album, American Myth, it was produced by Los Lobos (and ex-Blasters) saxophonist Steve Berlin, which accounts for the Lobos-like blues-rock vibe on a few cuts.

I like Ghost, but it really hasn’t grabbed me by the lapels and wrestled me to the ground.

It begins with “Shaken,” which has a stately Eagles-like feel, and “Animal,” which follows, continues the album’s dense but loping andante pace. On the third cut, “I Don’t Live in a Dream,” a textured acoustic blues tune, a little breathing room appears. Then comes “Like a Ball and Chain” and “Uphill Mountain,” a pair of Stones-styled rockers by way of John Mellencamp, followed by a slightly Dylan-esque loper, “Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind,” which oozes with Hammond organ and horns.

Seven cuts in is the album’s most beautiful track, “Prayer for Spanish Harlem,” which features a sincere vocal and a shimmering backup. It’s followed by another fine track, “Downhearted,” a plaint for social justice with a classic soul vibe. And if I were picking singles, “Follow You,” a slide guitar-driven blues rave-up that sounds like it’ll be a live encore, would get the nod. “Another Love Gone Bad” is a catchy accordion-laced pop tune, and “When You Return” is an enervated minor-key space filler. Finally, “Ghosts of Promised Lands,” which echoes Greene’s lyrical preoccupation with injustice, lopes its way to a rocking finish.

It’s a three-and-a-half star album—not a classic, but a fine soundtrack to a bike ride or a road trip. You can hear some of it at, and the now-San Francisco-based artist’s local album release party is Saturday, March 29, at the Empire.

And if you’re a fan of rambunctious Aries men (and who isn’t, right?), be sure to help We Prick You frontman Marcus Cortez celebrate his birthday at Old Ironsides on Friday, March 21. Cortez’s birthday is actually on Sunday, which happens to fall on Easter this year, so he’s doing it on Friday—the actual birthday of Kevin Federline, Rosie O’Donnell, wing-nut pundit Jonah “Doughy Pantload” Goldberg, the late serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and at least one local writer—instead. So go buy the big guy a beer already.