When I first received Beth Garner’s new album, Snake Farm, I wasn’t sure what to think. I know, we’ve been down this road before – books and covers, thanks for reminding me. Honestly though, a beautiful woman draped by two big old snakes?
Hell, I remember Natasha Kinski wearing only one snake and that caused a helluva sensation back in the day.
I don’t mind snakes, never have. I was fascinated by the lady on the cover and wanted to hear what kind of music she was going to unleash on the world.
Let me tell you something now, brothers and sisters, Beth Garner is the real deal. She can flat out play guitar with the best of them, and her slide work is very sweet. Her vocals are usually deep, slipping into a growl sometimes in order to make a point. She’s obviously learned her craft by playing in some tough joints where she had to be twice as tough to get her songs heard and appreciated.
She’s joined by some fine musicians: Rory Hoffman on sax, keyboards, and rhythm guitar; Wes Little on drums; and Steve Forrest on bass. Rounding out the sound are Angela Primm and Gale Mayes providing backing vocals.
The album starts off with a nice slow number, Alright By Me (Mr. Fisher). The song is written by Garner and it has a solid bassline and uses some interesting guitar licks and some very cool backing vocals. Garner proves she can handle those hot guitar licks with the best of them, often building the intensity of the song before backing down in order to concentrate on her vocals.
The next track, Backroads Freddie, is one of two Garner co-wrote with Fred Koller, and it’s a smoking driving song that kicks into gear quickly and doesn’t let up. She says she came up with the song while driving around the backroads, and she paints a vivid picture of all the things one comes across while crisscrossing the country. This is one that will be featured on Time For The Blues, and make sure you listen out for Hoffman’s keyboards before they give way to Garner’s guitar. Cool song, nice and dark. Love this one.
Next up is the second song Garner co-wrote with Koller, Drop Down. It’s slower but very intense. The tempo makes you sit up and listen and the backing vocals add a lot to this number. It’s a strange number, it uses blues motifs but it goes off into a different territory. It’s almost a Southern Gothic song – dark, twisted, and more than a little dangerous. I’m going to have to listen to this one a few more times in order to be able to express the uneasy mood it creates.
Shades of Elmore James! Used To Be is a fun number and makes the most of Garner’s scintillating slide work. I love this song, it’s quick and gritty and the kind of song that will drive an audience wild. I can pretty much guarantee that this is one song that will be getting a lot of air play on just about every blues program everywhere. And if they don’t play it, write the producers and insist they play it!
If you’re expecting a cover of the Allman Brothers classic of the same name, let me save you the trouble; Garner’s Ramblin’ Man is an original title about those, ahem, ladies, who love to follow musicians around. Specifically, Texas musicians. It’s a look at a part of the musical world that we don’t hear too much about, but Garner’s turned it into a very cool song.
The title track, Snake Farm, is the one true cover on the album. Originally written by Texas country star Ray Wyllie Hubbard, Garner has a great time with the song. Apparently, the snake farm in question is real and located near San Antonio. I don’t get there very often, so I can’t attest to the veracity of that statement, nor can I say that the lady in question can be found there. However, you better believe on my next trip to the Lone Star State, I’m heading up I-35 to look for the joint. In the meantime, have some fun with this one, it’s a wild little ride, and more than a little creepy…
Garner concludes the album with Wish I Was, a fun, funky, modern blues song that’s short on chords and long on attitude. I could listen to this kind of blues song all day long and still want more at night. She has packed more strong blues into a scant seven songs than many other artists do in albums twice as long.
Beth Garner is a serious blues artist, fluent in guitar and with a gutsy voice that can knock you out of your easy chair at thirty paces. She’s a strong performer and I can only hope that more radio producers will discover her talent and get her on the air pronto.
You can find out some more details about Garner, and maybe even that snake farm north of San Antonio, at her website: https://www.bethgarner.com/. I’ll be checking it out to see if she’s going to be touring anywhere near me, because if she is, you better believe the Professor’s going to be in the front row.
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