by Nick DeRiso
Featuring this dreamtime folk whimsy and a fabulist band name, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger sound at times like Simon and Garfunkel. Or, like an ornate, late-night 1960s French pop singer, after perhaps one too many tokes., or maybe
What they don’t sound like, not really, is John Lennon. And that’s saying something. See, last November’s Acoustic Sessions is the quietly issued debut of Sean Lennon — second son of Beatle John; only child of his union with Yoko Ono — and talented multi-instrumentalist/model/girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl as the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.
Sean is, actually, this atom-smashing blend of his two parents, with the gentle romanticism and sharp wordcraft that represents one part of, but also the far-out mysticism of his conceptual artist mom. Yet, in his own very gentle way, Lennon slips away from celebrity’s claustrophobia with the GOASTT’s understated Acoustic Sessions, a fantastic effort in the literal sense of the word.
The album doesn’t feel descendant, and that couldn’t have been an easy thing to do. Instead, there’s an intimacy to these songs that’s deeply revealing, if only by their small scope. Lennon was a child of fame, so he knows what a difficult lover (OK, what) she can be. You sense him approaching things with a damaged heart, but also with a discreet certainty. All of sudden, you realize that Sean Lennon is 35.
Muhl, meanwhile, sings with an ever more ethereal spaciousness, adding small flourishes throughout, an accordion here and an acoustic guitar there. They comingle like new lovers, finishing each other’s sentences and going off to do small, kind favors. He’ll sing, and she’ll play the glockenspiel. He’ll gently strum his guitar, and she’ll add a sprite banjo.
Well, maybe they are something like Sean’s folks, after all — at least in the sense of starting with a chance meeting (at California’s Coachella Music and Art Festival, in 2004) and then, maybe instantaneously, having this torrid, mind meld-level connection. Like John and Yoko, too, they present as don’t-give-a-shit hippie types, but deep down we find these kindled passions. They dress up, for instance, in post-ironic costumes to sing, looking prosaic and detached, but then pour every bit of themselves into the performance.
That’s where it ends, though. The elder Lennons, both of them, were prone to bigger statements. Prone, in fact, to screaming. A lot. There’s none of that outsized emotion here, nothing to create a space between what they’re singing and the listener. Sean Lennon is having this conversation in a smaller room — often it seems, with only Charlotte. That gives the nu-folk tales on Acoustic Sessions their own smaller implications, their own interior storylines, with these two lovers at the center.
And it stands in high relief from duo recordings by his parents at the dawn of their relationship, these intricate art-project soundscapes that ended up revealing little beyond the depth of John and Yoko’s own brilliantly convoluted imaginations.
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is different. It lets you in.
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger — the title of a play Muhl wrote when she was seven — has announced plans for an electric album to be released this spring. It’s tentatively titled Victorian Cyborg and again will appear on their own perfectly named Chimera Music label. Definition of chimera: An organism that can be part male and part female.