Acoustic Sounds

Olivia Jean

Raving Ghost



Olivia Jean "Raving Ghost"

Label: Third Man Records

Produced By: Olivia Jean

Engineered By: Bill Skibbe

Lacquers Cut By: Warren Defever (Third Man Mastering)

By: Dylan Peggin

May 4th, 2023





Olivia Jean Summons A Raving Ghost

The Detroit garage rocker delivers her heaviest offering to date

Olivia Jean is a jack of all trades. When a demo of Olivia Jean’s material found its way into Jack White’s hands in 2009, she relocated to Nashville and joined Third Man Records’ (founded by White) stable of artists. After carving her way as a session musician for the likes of Wanda Jackson and Karen Elson, in 2010 Olivia became the lead vocalist/guitarist/primary songwriter of the all-female garage goth band The Black Belles.

The material that didn’t quite fit the Black Belles mold was the basis of her own solo venture, which resulted in 2014’s Bathtub Love Killings. With Jack in the producer’s chair, Olivia had a clear vision of how her work should sound; so what better person to play all the instruments on the album than herself? In a way to shake up the cycle, she resided in the producer’s chair and left the instrumentation to a dedicated backing band for Night Owl, which was released in 2019. While Olivia has plenty of musical moxy, Jack White must’ve had his pulse on something entirely different, as the two got married in front of a sold out crowd during Jack’s performance at the Masonic Temple in their hometown of Detroit in 2022.

Since those wedding bells were rung, Olivia Jean has re-emerged with her newest solo offering, Raving Ghost. Upon the stylus tracing the grooves of the album's opening title track, the sound of a dissonant tolling bell welcomes a cool syncopated guitar/bass riff with an ominous feel. The quality of the vocal lives up to the song’s title, since the delay on them adds a ghostly quality to the song. The verses are brilliantly rounded off with walls of fuzz guitars that will surely make heads bob.

“Too Late,” with its percussive handclaps and a synth line that takes the lead for the majority of the song, picks up the album's pace. Fans of her earlier contributions to The Black Belles, will find this comfortable territory and feel right at home. A throbbing synthesizer signals the intro to the creepy crawling “Spider.” The slow drive of the ride cymbal bell and distorted guitars compliment the gothic horror of the ominous whisper vocal Olivia provides. With lyrics pertaining to “weaving beautiful webs just trying to stay alive” and “every twist and turn only to be undone and now I’m dead,” it's surely one of the album’s most dramatic moments. A deadly scream leads right into the song’s brewing outro. The leadoff single from the album, “Trouble,” with its big guitars and vocal melody full of infectious hooks is sensationally anthemic. The Hammond organ part that hides within the mix provides a nice texture to the guitars. The pleading “I Need You” has a slight Go-Gos vibe to it with its thumping yet driving drums and a far left-panned synth part that provides a counterpoint to the vocal melody. 

Side 2 treats us to the true roots of Olivia’s musical DNA: 1960s surf music. “Ditch” is a surfadelic explosion with syncopated riffs and Dick Dale inspired guitar runs. The wave continues to ride onto “Fun,” with its seductive vocals, with what sounds like a subtle yet noticeable layer of white noise underlying them. The bluesy vamp of “Fate” is subtle with a main descending riff during the verses, countered with a tasteful ascending lead guitar. During the chorus, the song's bluesy vamp reaches its climactic peak.

Olivia’s cover of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” completely transforms the song into one that's far different than the new-age sounding original familiar to most listeners. The spatial keyboards are swapped for a more raucous 60s garage arrangement, accompanied by a Farfisa-esque sounding organ that emulates the sequenced synthesizers. The call-and-response vocals in the verses provide an extra bit of flair that makes this cover unique.

The clean bending guitars in “Godmother” allow the listener to quickly catch a breath, but only for a bit, after which the song goes through dramatic shifts and settles into a swaying 6/8 vamp that carries through to the song's conclusion.

The album’s closer, “Don’t Leave,” is a slow builder with subtle verses and soulful Hammond organ fills sprinkled in for tasteful measure. The guitar solo that rips through the backing track does all the talking. Coupled with airy vocals soaked in reverb and dynamic drums, there’s enough light and shade within this track to keep the listener locked in until the stylus rides through into the deadwax.

With Jean in the producer’s chair, the album primarily came to life at Valentine Recording Studios in Los Angeles. Despite its initial abandonment and subsequent reopening, Valentine has retained its charm, becoming a time capsule of sorts, even down to the still in operation custom 24-input MCI board installed back in 1975. All throughout her career, Olivia’s work is strongly inspired by surf rock with a harder garage edge and echoes of 60s girl group melodies. The vintage aesthetic of a studio like Valentine provides a fitting environment for Olivia to bring her ideas to life on magnetic tape. The arsenal of musicians that appear on this record, including guitarist Alex Windsor, drummer Carla Azar (Autolux) and keyboardist Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket) to name just a few, help give each song a distinctive flavor,

Olivia & Company @ Valentine
Pressed at Third Man Pressing, located on the premises of Third Man’s Cass Corridor Detroit storefront, the indie exclusive variant comes pressed on what is described as “phantom amethyst” colored vinyl. If one looks at the actual gemstone, the color replication is spot on with an overall clear hue streaked with purple. Given transparent vinyl's occasional noise issues I apprehensively lowered the stylus into the grooves, but was greeted with pleasing quiet throughout the side. On another positive note, there were no signs of warping or other visual flaws. Third Man Pressing prides itself on being extra hands-on with added visual quality control.

Every Third Man release, includes a fun "deadwax" easter egg hunt. The etching on Side A states “love spells and wishing wells”. Side B's states “vices and devices,” both of which are lyrics lifted from “Too Late.” 

The indie exclusive vinyl and insert

The jacket has a liquid laminated finish with a bit of matte detail on Olivia’s name on the front and on the album name on the back. There's also a four page insert with lyrics, credits and shots of Olivia posing with her custom shiny pink finished Fender Parallel Universe Volume II Maverick Dorado. My gripe is with Third Man housing this record in a basic white paper prone to scuffing inner sleeve! A company that prides itself in its pressing quality should at least use a polylined one! I replaced the paper one with a rice paper anti-static sleeve.

How does the record sound? If you like well-rounded bass and bottom end, this record has plenty of it. Warren Defever's vinyl mastering also shines during the moments where this record goes hard, though some of the higher frequencies tend to get lost, with cymbal shimmer and some of the brighter guitar tone crispness getting buried in the mix.

Raving Ghost is another step in Olivia Jean’s evolution as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Whereas Bathtub Love Killings and Night Owl demonstrated her artistry's lighter side, within The Black Belles she tapped back into her darker past and on this new offering welcomes in even more darker elements, making it her heaviest offering to date.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: TMR859/810074422024

Pressing Plant: Third Man Pressing (TMP)

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-05-05 03:55:37 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    After listening to this half-through, I imagine this album would translate with a lot more energy live. The recording needs more swagger, imo. The guitars need to be louder and with more authority. The midrange is missing bite; it underwhelms. I could see Jack White turning this into an amazing offering.