The 2002 release of the Mountain Goats' retrospective Ghana put an end to the trilogy of collections of hard-to-find rarities that the band had released in the 1990s. The term "band" is used loosely when referring to the Mountain Goats, who have always primarily been the creative output of singer/songwriter John Darnielle. More often than not, Darnielle performs the group's songs solo on acoustic guitar. Choosing not to focus the attention on himself, Darnielle's frantic musical output made it difficult, if not impossible, for his fans to collect all of his releases. Ghana followed the successes of Protein Source of the Future...Now! and Bitter Melon Farm. When it became clear that there was a great demand for many out-of-print recordings from various singles, cassettes, and compilations, Ajax Records agreed to release most of the rare songs on three discs. When Ajax owner Tim Adams shut down Ajax in favor of the new 3 Beads of Sweat label, the third in the series finally saw the light of day. Highlights on the disc include "Golden Boy," an ode to a rare brand of peanuts, as well as "Song for John Davis," a musical tribute to the Folk Implosion member who toured with the Mountain Goats in the late '90s. Four songs were taken from Darnielle's collaboration with Alastair Galbraith on the Orange Raja, Blood Royal EP, originally released on Walt Records. The only previously unreleased track on the disc is "Going to Kirby Sigston," which was originally slated for release on an Ajax Records compilation that never saw the light of day. "The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix's Life" is, not surprisingly, often pointed to as one of Darnielle's most powerful songs ever. Its bittersweet sound and precise execution result in a very powerful track. "The Anglo-Saxons" serves as a botched history lesson, as Darnielle often points to the song's inaccuracies when performing it live, while "Earth Air Water Trees" is an earnest and touching love song. On "Noctifer Birmingham," Darnielle shows impressive instrumental and vocal restraint. The disc ends, appropriately, with the casual "Leaving Home," with Darnielle serving as narrator at the end of the musical journey. With only two of the 31 tracks clocking in at more than three minutes, the music's simplicity (along with Darnielle's refusal to excessively repeat a song's chorus) is certainly one of the qualities that attract many to the music of the Mountain Goats. Darnielle has always worked at a feverish pace, and it's the output on collections like these that makes his genius so evident. The variety of songs is staggering. The songs on Ghana were originally released from 1991 to 1999. The strength of the songs sheds light on the evolution of Darnielle's songwriting, from his humble lo-fi beginnings to his almost Woody Guthrie-esque approach to the craft. As with most of his releases, the aesthetic highlight of the disc is Darnielle's convoluted and witty liner notes, which add another dimension to his appeal.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cramer