Ok, here it goes. This has been a very difficult review to write. I really wanted to like this album: I was getting excited at the fact I may have found another blues artist to obsess over. I started writing this Friday and I’ve altered my opinions on the album every time I’ve listened to it, hence this review has been pushed, pulled and poked in every way , but here it is in its final form. As an album its painful listening when in one mood, yet challenging when in another; however, elements of it I really like and lyrically Garwood is probably second to none. I would also like to add the album hasn’t fared badly with other critics and general reception, so perhaps I’m a lone wolf, out on the hunt. Oh well, here is my review.
It’s obvious Garwood is a very talented man, but when I say he puts the ‘blue’ in blues I seriously mean it – and I’m not sure this is a good thing in this instance. This album was excruciating: the majority of the songs were individually beautiful, but pulled together they formed one slow, depressing, monotonous affair. Garwood’s repetition of slower than slow, lethargic tempos almost forced me to step outside for a breather: to be honest I’m proud I made it through. I love deep music that forces contemplation, but the stunning lyrics on an album were often smothered by the dreary use of instrumentation. The album makes very heavy listening. A few of the songs I really like and most of them aren’t bad by any means; however, the whole composition of this album is inherently wrong: these tracks should never have been put together.
The opener Coldblooded was promising: I enjoyed listening to it slowly fade in with a gentle guitar riff and cymbals, the gradual layering of the instruments pulled me in and the melodic ‘ooing’ is a nice touch and gives the song more texture. Garwood’s voice is gruff and gravelly and the song pleasantly introduced me to his masculine grunt. Unfortunately, I soon realised this song is practically a premonition, even though you may not know it. The similarity and indistinguishable features of every song has led me to dismissing most of them; with the mid-section of the album particularly bogging me down.
Thankfully, Garwood’s lyrical talents help to counter the more discouraging aspects. His use of words effortlessly paint visions in your head. For instance, in Days Gone Old he announces ‘I turned quick so stiff I snapped my neck’ when reminiscing about past memories and thoughts. His skillful lyricism is again demonstrated notably through lines such as ‘throw down like you’re a fire breathing fiend’, which features in Blue, a track centered on drug addiction and recovery.
If there is one track I would say to avoid, it would have to be Hard Dreams. The slight distortion and echo on his voice paired with an even slower tempo is positively frightening: his voice gets even deeper as he basically growls over the music making some lines almost incomprehensible. If you enjoy extremely deep, slow blues then perhaps this could be something you could happily doze and relax to, but I can’t see myself reaching for this at all in the near future.
On a more positive Sleep is the welcomed opposite of Hard Dreams: Garwood showcases a little more variety, not only in his voice by revealing slightly more vocal range, but through his removal of slow drum beats. This song is very minimal and the guitar sounds quite beautiful and jingly. The song deserves its’ name – its delicacy could make you fall asleep in a good way – whilst its classic, sad, bluesy tone keeps it in theme. It’s a refreshing track amongst the doom and gloom: it raises the mood and gives the album more substance. I just wish as the penultimate track that this refreshment had come earlier.
So here are my overall thoughts. I am going to give Garwood’s other material a listen – (it can only be better) – in an attempt to appreciate someone who is without doubt musically talented. His haunting vocals are moving and I feel like I could appreciate Garwood more if I gently dip into his catalogue, rather than dive. I like the almost unofficial concept of the album as what Garwood coined ‘beautiful apocalypse love music’, and the lyrics beautifully reflected this but instrumental and vocal variation could have seriously pushed this album to its extremities. I would have loved Garwood to have introduced some more texture, to truly give the listener a more euphoric experience. I think he thought he was delivering this but he instead numbed me from any transportive sensory revelation. Unless you like pretending you’re at a funeral I would give a full length listening a miss, although do give some of my track suggestions a listen and you may be able to find enjoyment out of some of them as standalones. As for me I think I’ll go back to listening to Muddy Waters, B.B.King and Stevie Ray Vaughn for a little while.
Best Tracks: Coldblooded, Sonny Boogie, Blue, Sleep