By Tyler Asay
The Waywoods are a new Philadelphia-based band fronted by local folk singer Pete Hill who just released their debut record, A Ghost River Companion. Joined by longtime friends Dan Beaver (guitar), Nate Matulis (bass) and Jarrod Pedone (drums), A Ghost River Companion is the culmination of the group’s musical chemistry after years of playing in Hill’s band . The record itself, which came out earlier this week, meditates on death and history along with Hill’s backroad storytelling.
I first came across Hill’s work in 2017 at the Bourbon & Branch (RIP) record release show for his EP, Anyhow. Blown away by the underlying hooks and woodsy textures from the Bucks County native’s tunes, I dug back into 2014’s The Bullet Tree, another gem packed record indebted as much to classic rock such as The Velvet Underground to modern jangly indie like Real Estate or Whitney.
However, A Ghost River Companion points in a new direction for the rebranded band. First single “Ain’t Too Big” saunters in with a jammy undercurrent more reminiscent of the Grateful Dead or Creedence Clearwater Revival, a slow groove jam highlighted by Hill’s falsetto ooh’s. The immediate follow-up “Cold Wind” relishes in its own sweetness and longing, with lines like “It’s a sight to see, a painful memory” blowing right through you.
This stunning collection of songs continue to unravel as you travel with them, like wading into waist-high water. The quarantine-influenced “Living In A Bubble” jumps out with its huge guitar hook and Hill’s hooting and hollering, before it’s coda of “Why are you giving me the runaround, getting stoned to the Beach Boys every night?” Since most of this record was recorded live with producers Jason Harris & Ian Bennett, you can hear that open space between the musicians like you would at a live show (and trust me, these guys tear it up in person).
This pivot towards a more rustic, country-influenced storytelling pops up in tracks such as “Honestly Babe” and the record’s opener “Black Hair, Blue Heart.” These darker undercurrents lean into the themes of the record, which are reflections on one’s personal history and where the road can take you. There’s more story songs on here too, like the ghostly “Razor Ramon” and the heartbreaking and isolated “Lonely Life.” Hill sings, “They say it’s over, that we can go home, but they won’t let me out.”
The theme of starting over bubbles up here and there, like on “Feel the Breeze,” which resonates based on the band’s decision to take on a new name. The album’s centerpiece and (semi) title track “Ghost River” bears itself as a mission statement for this project, pushing forward and having a hell of a time making music as not just a band but a family. The road goes on forever, so don’t make that trip alone.