It's not quite Chinese Democracy, but it's still a minor miracle that the solo album from legendary vocalist John Garcia (Kyuss, Vista Chino, Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano) has finally seen the light of day. It was originally slated for a 2008 release as 'Garcia v. Garcia' but then got shelved when Kyuss Lives! got rolling, had a big legal fight with Josh Homme and Scott Reeder, and then continued rolling as Vista Chino.
Thing is, this project is clearly very important to Garcia because in order to finally get it done, he turned down offers to record new albums with Vista Chino, Hermano and Unida. And much as I'd have liked to hear new albums from any or all of those three bands (particularly the incredibly overlooked and under-rated Hermano), I'm probably more intrigued by this fabled record finally getting a release.
So, the obvious question is what does it sound like and is it any good? To which the answer is, it has the desert rock vibe with which Garcia is universally associated in spades, and yes, absolutely.
Opening track My Mind has a particularly doomy opening riff, over which a pissed-off Garcia snarls "What the hell are you saying, who in the hell are you talking to? Won't you leave me alone" before locking into a tight upbeat groove. It's a catchy, powerful and impressive start to proceedings which highlights Garcia's considerable songwriting ability. On one hand, that ability might well be presumed given the quality of Garcia's resume - on the other hand, it's really the first time he's been the primary songwriter on an album.
And there is a ton of evidence on this album that this is a very welcome development. Garcia's songwriting captures the desert rock essence and groove that fuelled Kyuss but he marries it with the hooks that were more typical of Hermano's material and also the occasional acoustic moment a la Murder One or Dark Horse II. There's certainly shades of the recent Vista Chino material in there as well.
John Garcia's greatest accomplishment, however, is the fact that while those familiar flavours are there, this record does not sound quite like any of them. Like the ram with the crazy-ass floral horns on its cover, it is its own animal. It's tighter than Kyuss, more organic than Hermano, easy to get into without sacrificing the depth that only becomes obvious on repeat listens, and of course it's a showcase for Garcia's raspy, inimitable vocals. It is definitively John Garcia - not in the personal, heart-on-the-sleeve sense that many solo albums can be, but in the sense that he's put a definitive personal stamp on the songs and the album.
If there's one criticism I have of the record, it's that it can get a little samey at times. There's a lot of great mid-tempo desert rock grooves on here but having one or two more experimental tracks like the distortion v. Garcia of Confusion, or the brilliant acoustic closer Her Bullet's Energy (featuring a great guest spot from Robby Krieger of the Doors) would have added a lot of variety and depth to the record.
Of course, it does help that those mid-tempo grooves are all very solid, none more so than the insistent, driving one-note strum of His Bullet's Energy and the hammering, snarling stomp of 5000 Miles. And to be entirely fair, the vast majority of punters who pick up this record will be expecting a solid helping of the desert rock for which Garcia is renowned.
It might have been years in the making, but John Garcia has such an abundance of quality that I can only hope he finds time to produce another solo record at some point.