7 tracks / 26:19
There are no hard and fast rules abut how the blues should sound, and aside from a few basic structures and patterns, the limits of the genre are only set by an artist’s imagination and attitude. Beth Garner is not short on either of these attributes, and her third album, Snake Farm, is both unique and adventurous. These results are possible because of Garner’s personality and energy, as well as her prowess on lead and slide guitars.
Beth started her musical career in Austin, Texas, and ten years ago she moved to a small town to the east of Nashville. From there Garner made her way into Music City to sing and play her ferocious lead guitar at the bars on Lower Broadway, and this record is evidence of the progress she has made over the years. Snake Farm was recorded “mostly live” at Slack Key Studios in Woodbine, Tennessee (south of the Gulch), and the results are vibrant and fresh.
Beth Garner and Randy Kohns were producers for this project, and joining Garner in the studio were Steve Forrest on bass, Wes Little behind the drum kit, Rory Hoffman on saxophone, keyboards, and rhythm guitar, as well as backing vocalists Angela Primm and Gale Mayes. This is a short album, coming in at a bit over 26 minutes, but Beth wrote six of the seven tracks and they all tell interesting stories. For example the opener, “Alright by Me (Mr. Fisher),” is the tale of a woman who pines for Mr. Fisher, and the lively vocals are set to a laid back (yet funky) rhythm and blues score. Edgy guitar leads, honking baritone sax, and pretty harmonies complement Beth’s unique style.
The listener never has the opportunity to get bored with Snake Farm, as each song is completely different than the others. “Backroads Freddie” is a swamp rocker with Austin-style guitar leads, slightly distorted vocals, and muffled harmonica. Garner swaps solos with Hoffman’s keys and one thing is for sure when this is all done – Freddie is a player! There is a bit of gospel doom too, as Garner uses “Drop Down” to warn about heavy stuff that is coming down (book of Revelation style). There is less instrumentation here, as the guitar carries the simple melody with accompaniment from Hoffman’s sax and the abundant vocal harmonies from Primm and Mayes.
The mood picks up with “Used to Be,” a hot shuffle with bouncing bass, heavy slide guitar and tight harp accents. The message here is that maybe it is better to not settle for an old flame that didn’t work out the first time. In a similar dysfunctional relationship theme, “Ramblin Man” is about falling for a musician that just won’t be sticking around. This is a gnarly piece of funk that feels like a bass and drum jam that has a song breaking out on top of it.
Then there is the title track, “Snake Farm,” which altogether different. This song is very entertaining, and Garner does a stand-up job of delivering the lyrics in a deadpan (almost spoken-word) manner. This is swamp rock, with cool reverb-soaked guitar providing the jangly leads, and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s lyrics are priceless. I found myself wondering if this is based on the Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels, TX. If so, this was a nasty place 40 years ago, and this song perfectly captures the vibe.
The seventh song is the closer, “Wish I Was,” where Beth yearns for how things were in the good old days. With its hammering beat and electric piano, it brings to mind the Read Hot Chili Peppers’ version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” As with the rest of the album, the sound is clear with a good mix, and the live recording vibe is genuine. I imagine they have been performing these songs live for a while, which is great preparation for the studio.
Snake Farm is a short but very satisfying album, and Beth Garner has shown that she is quite a songwriter. The lyrics are funny and clever, and her musical arrangements are not built around the chords that everybody else relies on. Her website only shows one upcoming gig (Plano, Texas in June), but hopefully more dates will be added soon, as Beth’s music is a real treat and it would be cool to see her show!