The Norman Transcript

N-town reviews

June 13, 2014

Music review: Hard Garden offers fearless take on blues

NORMAN — Musician: Hard Garden

Album name: Blue Yonder

Why you should listen: Hard Garden is all about plowing old ground and delivering a fearless new harvest of modern American blues. The band is Seattle trio, vocalist/ guitarist Son Jack Jr., Michael Wilde on harp and vocals, and percussionist Garrett Williams.

Their name comes from the notion that the blues are a too-long untended aural patch and the sounds became inflexible. It’s tough raising anything sweet in a hard garden. They’ve set out to remedy that. Irrespective of the agricultural imagery produced by this brave new blues co-op, its inspiration is more urban than rural. Hard Garden owes more to the unforgiving pavement of Chicago than the rich fragrant soil of the Mississippi Delta. Track 9 “Maximum Insecurity” is even set in the Cook County Department of Corrections, the Windy City’s main pen. A blues harp stomp introduces the tale of filching a poleece car and landing before a maximum-time judge. The song recalls Hosty Duo’s “Cleveland County Jail” for slammer jam humor. “Papa’s in the Juke Joint” evokes gin joints from Clarksdale to Portland.

Distorted vocals and dizzying guitar solo ride a rhythm shake-down. “I Can Tell” is lyrically compelling because it’s both foreboding and unclear. You really can’t tell precisely who or what it’s about. There’s a lot of malevolence in this disc with “I Feel Evil” and “Dangerous.” Way too creepy, “The Valley,” about a six-gun and parental suicide, is hard to listen to.

In some respects Hard Garden brings to mind The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion but with a less outrageous and frenetic vibe. Similarly The White Stripes masterfully took the blues and had their way with it. “Blue Yonder” takes off in some wild and risky directions that the American Blues genre has always been famous for.

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