The second big fat rock record from the former frontman of New York legends The Hangdogs, "The Ghost of Rock & Roll" marks the collaboration of Matthew Grimm and former New York roots-rock compatriot Jason T. Lewis, both now relocated to Iowa City, IA. Produced by Grimm and Lewis, it has Grimm tearing ass through familiar territory, unabashedly randy ("Cinderella"), raging ("Wrath of God") and raucous ("White"), empathetic ("Cry"), anthemic ("One Twenty Oh-Nine") and ever-proletarian ("Ghost of Rock & Roll").
Best known as a pioneer of New York’s roots rock scene, Grimm began his music career in mid-1990s playing vaguely hillbillyesque rock in succession of crappy East Village starter clubs with The Hangdogs. The band morphed into a raucous roots rock outfit, melding punk-rock-ish live energy with the Grimm's alternately somber or funny lyrics and melodies. Within a few years, The Hangdogs had become New York's preeminent entrant into then-extant roots rock/alternative country wave, establishing themselves as mainstays at the city’s mecca for American roots music, The Rodeo Bar, cited as one of the city’s attractions in no less than The New Yorker, even mentioned as a runner-up in an MSNBC.com story determining the “best bar-band in America.” On the occasion of a 2008 Rodeo Bar reunion, the New York music blog LucidCulture summarized: “For a substantial chunk of time in the late 90s and early zeros, there was no better New York band than the Hangdogs. Watching them evolve from overamped, politically incorrect honkytonkers to a magnificent, lyrically-charged Americana rock unit with a national following was one of the most satisfying things a concertgoer here could have witnessed — and countless did.”
Family and dayjob priorities winnowed the band’s original line-up away, eventually leaving Grimm the only original Hangdog touring. Along the way, he honed his sound, losing the twang, sharpening his lyrics into a fervently progressive political voice and pushing the band’s sonic ethos more towards unabashed rock. Grimm’s own family issues led him back to his native Iowa in early 2004. He made his first ostensible solo record, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, helmed by multiplatinum producer and guitar great Pete Anderson in his Burbank, CA, studio. Of the record, released in the spring of 2006, The Pulse of the Twin Cities would aver, “Like the venerable yarn spinners who share his last name, Matthew Grimm utilizes common, everyday situations to bolster the effectiveness of his personal tales of terror and injustice in a world that’s already become horrific enough to no longer need fairy tales.”
Alternatively hilarious and poignant, The Ghost of Rock & Roll cements Grimm's long-held, if minor, reputation as weaver of disarmingly catchy hooks and one of the best obscure songwriters working in an "industry" whose rampant, orthodox consolidation has largely destroyed American creativity and left the true denizens of its marketplace to labor in the shadows.
The record's advance-release single, "One Big Union" — issued digitally in 2008 in cooperation with the muckraking blog DownWithTyranny — has been heard in labor gatherings around the country, as well as in bumpers for the nationally syndicated radio show of progressive talker Thom Hartmann.