photo: courtesy good ground
The local trio Good Ground has been over a decade in the making, finally releasing their album South Wind, Northern Songs last week. It's a collection of old and new material, some written in their Naperville stomping grounds, others dreamed up in the northern woods of Wisconsin.
The group consists of guitarist/singer John Wills, his wife Carla Wills, and Zach Thomas on drums. Back and forth between Nashville and Chicago while making the album, the group has ties to both cities. But you can catch them at Elbo Room on the 27th—tomorrow night—for a taste of the new release.
According to John, his wife Carla was the inspiration for the album, proving that not all marriages result in a storage unit full of music gear. Here’s a preview of the album’s more notable numbers:
- ‘Legend’ This could have been a Rilo Kiley b-side. Carla’s voice channels the sweet, sultry style that Jenny Lewis perfected. John’s shimmering guitar tone gives the song room to breathe with washes of electric color.
- ‘By My Side’ Harnessing some duo power, this track offers the comforting harmony of husband and wife, hinting at the calm country-folk style that My Morning Jacket has been championing recently. Their voices also mirror the humble vocal simplicity heard from groups like the Moldy Peaches.
- ‘Harmonizer’ The blues rock flavor of the album is brought out most strongly in this track, driven by John’s gritty pentatonic riffs and a satisfying triplet feel in the rhythm section. Carly’s voice takes the stage as a slightly different persona than her sweeter appearances on the album, this one reminding of a stronger, older female presence like Bonnie Raitt.
John Wills and Zach Thomas (drummer) were Naperville kids playing together for years. When John and Carla married in 2008, her musical sensibilities started rubbing off, exposing the group to a songwriters approach that focused more on lyrics and melodies than guitar riffs.
Carla’s background included a jazz-trained pianist for a father and listening preferences like Ray LaMontagne, Peter Gabriel, Sufjan Stevens, and other versatile songwriters. That blending with John and Zach’s older days of Black Keys-style jamming led to the succinct crossover sound of South Wind, Northern Songs.
The combination is one that John says “allows for delicate melodies but still leaves room for more unconventional time feels, guitar solos, and acoustic/electric layering.” It is the work of people who have clearly been honing their composition skills—a very palatable sound, easy to relate to without being trite.