The beginning of 2019 has been particularly generous for the fans of stoner music: we have just received, just like a late Christmas present, the new album from one of the most important, influential and acclaimed figures of the stoner scene. I’m referring to John Garcia, the voice of the desert, the American vocalist and songwriter who has illuminated with his shining talent the world of stoner in the last thirty years.
John Garcia’s musical career has been marked by many important phases: he founded the legendary band Kyuss and after that experience he contributed to many other formations such as Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano and Vista Chino.
Approximately five years ago, the singer from Arizona started a solo career which has already seen the release of three studio records: 2014’s self-titled LP John Garcia, 2017’s The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (where Garcia presented in a totally acoustic arrangement a bunch of new tracks and some of Kyuss’ legendary songs) and, finally, this year’s John Garcia And The Band Of Gold.
As soon as I started listening to the new record I immediately realized that this wasn’t just John Garcia’s latest LP. This album, in fact, could likely represent a turning point in the career of the American musician. John Garcia And The Band Of Gold shows a tangible shift towards hard rock and southern sounds and, in this respect, the album represents a relative departure from the classical “stoner metal” of Garcia’s previous releases. John Garcia And The Band Of Gold is therefore one of those records that you have to listen and enjoy without making continuous comparisons with the artist’s previous discography. Let me be more precise: if the operation of evaluating this new album in the overarching context of Garcia’s career is absolutely normal, especially for long-term fans (as I am), I believe that expecting from each new song written by Garcia to be the new Gardenia is wrong, and it doesn’t make any justice to the phisiological evolution of Garcia’s music, and the evolutionary process that he has undertaken in the last few years. I repeat: this has nothing to do with the overall appreciation of the new album, for which everyone is free to say whatever he wants. This is rather my humble recommendation: to approach the new LP by taking into account that, in its essence, this is basically a record of contemporary hard rock with stoner influences. And it’s no coincidence, therefore, that the part of the album that’s closer to classic stoner is the final one, in which the band reinterprets in an “electric” way the unpublished songs that were initially presented in Garcia’s fully acoustic LP The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues.
Once made the necessary recommendations, let’s now focus on the new material released by our beloved singer. The first thing to say about John Garcia And The Band Of Gold is that the record is incredibly fresh, bright and also fun. There are many positive elements about Garcia’s new effort, but the thing that impressed me since the beginning has been the stylistic coherence of the LP. The album has a compactness out of the ordinary and it emanates a sense of confidence that honestly we couldn’t find when Garcia started his solo career. Compared to the music contained in 2014’s Garcia’s debut as leader, the artist today seems to have calibrated much better his style and he’s in condition to offer a collection of songs that go straight and without any hesitation along the road he has now chosen to follow for his music. There are no drops of tension, no dramatic changes of atmosphere, nor even the usual alternation of ballads and heavy pieces that we’ve listened in Garcia’s debut. The new record is like a car that runs fast along the straight and hot roads of Arizona (I’ve never been in that part of the US, but this is how I imagine the roads there). Clearly there is the risk that in the long run the LP could suffer for a relative lack of internal dynamics, but at least in this first phase of listening the compactness of the songs seems to prevails over everything else, and it makes the album absolutely exciting and enjoyable to listen to.
The majority of the tracks of the LP are characterized by simple but extremely appealing riffs, which result at the same time accessible and engaging. The album is immediate and ready to be assimilated already from the first listenings, but it doesn’t lose brilliance even after several runs in the stereo. For sure Garcia and his loyal bandmates (who are basically the same musicians that gravitated around him in the last few years) know very well how to win the hearts of the fans, and they do it on every new album. As a matter of fact, there are artists that have the capacity to write riffs and choruses that stick into the listener’s memory just from the first times you listen to them, and John Garcia is one of those. A few songs, in particular, have all the credentials to become new classics in his vast discography and they have also the potential to excite the audiences of the singer’s future live shows.
If I had to highlight a negative aspect of the record, I would have expected something more for the vocal part. John Garcia has one of the most beautiful and recognizable voices of rock and listening to him while he sings is always one of the most rewarding experiences for a stoner enthusiast (I have seen him live three times, and I can say that in the recent years, under this point of view, he is really in great shape). Nevertheless, in this last record I feel like Garcia has put on show all of his usual repertoire, which is really much stuff, but without ever surprising us with something unique and new.
In conclusion: John Garcia and the Band of Gold is another precious entry within the discography of one of the greatest musicians of all times, and not only within the stoner scene. It provides many elements of innovation to keep alive the interest of the long-term fans of the artists, and for the same reason presumably he will disappoint a few of them. The direction of Garcia’s music as band leader is now clear and his performance as singer is solid and brilliant, despite I would have preferred something new also on this aspect. Finally, the songs of the new album have a level of accessibility and immediacy that make the LP as a good entry point even for those who aren’t familiar with the previous production from Garcia.
If I should express my rating, I would say 8/10.
My favorite songs: Chicken Delight, Apache Junction, Jim’s Whiskers, Popcorn, Don’t Even Think About It and the opening instrumental track Space Vato.
Songs from the album John Garcia and the Band of Gold are featured in DUST AND SAND and THE DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER, the two playlist I’m curating on Spotify with the best of new stoner music. Listen, follow and spread the word!