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Versatility can be a mixed blessing. Just ask singer/songwriter Chris Alastair, who says listeners complain that his eclectic debut, Ghost In Love, “sounds like a mix tape.” Alastair’s penchant for stylistic experimentation has garnered comparisons to Frank Zappa—comparisons that he quickly dismisses as “a little too fawning.” Besides, Alastair hastens to point out, he has also been likened to everyone from Pete Townshend to Dave Loggins (of “Please Come to Boston” fame). Born in Libya and raised in England and the U.S., Alastair grew up playing brass instruments. Surprisingly, he holds a master’s degree in history, not English: Ghost alludes to Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza, includes a song “inspired by e.e. cummings,” and manages to work in the word “conundra.”
Alastair completed Ghost with a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. He says he was “a little surprised, but really, really grateful” for the money, without which he wouldn’t have been able to finance the project. “They should be using the money to pick up garbage and fill potholes,” he laughs, “but they gave it to me.”
Ghost is a solo work, but a community effort. The disc features a host of players from D.C. bands including the Zimmermans, Big Village, Big Black Nun, the True, and Oxymorons. (Alastair’s erstwhile fusion outfit, the Chris Alastair Projekt, is now defunct.) Though Alastair describes himself as a “solo singer/songwriter type” and his music as “songwriter rock,” he recently joined forces with the True; he’ll share songwriting and singing chores with frontman John Trupp. A spate of spring weddings has the band on temporary hiatus, but the True will soon resume live performances.
“I’m a comedian as well,” Alastair says of himself. This is most evident in songs like “I Can Be Your Shrink (and You Can Be My Teddy Bear),” which includes the unlikely come-on, “Let me be your smoker’s toothpaste, baby/Let me brush away the pain.” On the album’s title track—which Alastair proudly calls “my grunge waltz”—a lovestruck ghost claims that incorporeality is a plus in a boyfriend, noting that, “You won’t smell me when I’m near…you won’t notice that I’m a bore.” Though the disc’s showier tunes are edgy faux-funk numbers like “Pump It Up” and “A Lover’s Fix,” Alastair excels at the pretty, midtempo balladry heard on tracks like “Raining” and “Azerbaijan.” Dave Loggins indeed.
Ghost is available at Olsson’s Books and Music and at Kemp Mill; it can also be ordered through the Local Music Store at (800) 641-8995.—Nicole Arthur
The Chris Alastair band headlines a Local Music Store Showcase at the Grog and Tankard May 30.