I picked up the Racer Records sampler disk several years ago, and I always promised myself that I'd get Garden Variety's eponymous CD. Garden Variety has recently changed their name to The Garden to avoid confusion with another Garden Variety out there. Finally, I have recently bought The Garden's first album. I'm glad I did. The thing that sold me on the group was two solid songs on the sampler, a sampler that for the most part presented one strong and one weak song from several of Racer's performers.
"Here and Now" features some tight backing vocals from Molly Ruttan-Moffat and Linda Ruttan. The song ends in a strong vocal and guitar punch. Overall, this and "Beats" are the best two songs on the album, and this is a good album.
Beyond its lilting mandolin opening, "Beats" has great vocals all-around by Dug Moldawsky, Molly, and Linda. A gently rocking ballad, the violin and mandolin "break" shows these guys can write for instruments, blending them into luscious song. This is perhaps my favorite. Guitar work on both of the first two tracks is admirable.
"Soul Hands" opens with some powerful bass playing. The vocal fails to maintain its urgency throughout the song and for the soul/blues type of song this is somewhat of a weakness. Again, the backing vocals contribute to make this a very nice song.
"Winter": Beautiful! I don't know why Dug's vocal on this song sometimes reminds me of Oasis' "Wonderwall," but every time this song comes up, that comes to mind. "Winter" is a song that I think is most-suited to Dug's style of singing. While slower than most other songs on the album, this is not a sappy song. When this song picks up, its still beautiful!
"Grace" is a graceful song, with commendable performances by the whole group. The mid-portion is once again jammed with clean instrumental work.
A humorous(?) "No Shirt" calls to mind the Five Man Electrical Band's "Signs." With lyrics as enigmatic as much of songs on The Garden's first album, it isn't quite clear what the joke is. This is quite possibly the weakest link on a superb album. Still, it is not so bad as to force one to stand up and hit the "skip" button on the CD player. I suppose every band must have album filler. The bass start reminds me of quite a few Booker T. and the MGs starts.
"Oooh, I wonder if I'm better off with my eyes closed..." a wonderfully beautiful refrain for "Eyes Closed," a song chock- full of post-Fordist commentary on American consumerism and the media. Lyrically, it reminds me of a few of the sentiments on Neil Young's Sleeps with Angels album. Aurally, it doesn't even come close. Good ol' "wocka-wocka" guitars are a nice touch. These guys sure can play. Dug's vocal seems to wimp out at the end, but this track is a good one.
Except for the bluesy violins, "Why" is somewhat McCartney-ish. Something brought to mind that little soundcheck ditty "Hotel in Benidorm" to me, but upon re-listening, I was unable to make the connection fit. Certainly, it's not the vocals. Dug does a wonderful job of making this song his own. Here's a lyric somewhat suggestive of an old Kinks song.
The opening to "Beneath the Wheel" could belong on any of Dream Academy's albums. Although Dug's voice is nothing like Nick Laird-Clowes, I can definitely see this song as a Dream Academy song. This song has some very nice layering for an album recorded "live" in the studio. Well-done songcrafting here. Vicious violin work of James Sneyd calls to mind Charlie Daniels, (but this is no country song).
Finishing on a slow "Canyon of Tears" the group shows their colors. The ethereal voices of Molly and Linda sonically paint an image of the canyon metaphor.
It may sound as though I have only compared The Garden to other artists in this article. There are probably two reasons for that. First, it is the only vocabulary I can come up with. Perhaps that will also give the reader some idea of my point-of-view, too. Second, and perhaps most importantly, The Garden is heavily rooted in a folk-rock tradition that pulls from all sorts of popular music. Regardless, The Garden is not a "sound-alike" band, The Garden has a sound all their own. I look forward to their forthcoming album.
Overall rating: *** 1/2
0 *'s Peeyew!
* Makes a good coaster.
** Fair attempt at something resembling music.
*** Certainly to be played more than once.
**** Will get put on a regular rotation for my CD player.
***** The world would halt if this disk didn't exist.
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Page copyright © 1996, 1998 Leslie Carl Seiler. All rights reserved. This review was written 9 April 1996. Minor HTML editing 14 September 2003.