[John Garcia releases The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues via Napalm Records on Jan. 27. Please enjoy a lyric video premiere for ‘Give Me 250ml’ by clicking play above.]
It’s hard to say exactly how long John Garcia‘s acoustic album has been in the works. Granted, if we’re talking about this release, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, which teams the singer whose voice inarguably most typifies California’s desert rock movement with guitarist Ehren Groban (War Drum), bassist Mike Pygmie (Mondo Generator, You Know Who) and percussionist Greg Saenz (The Dwarves, You Know Who), it’s a more recent affair, following up on Garcia‘s fully-plugged 2014 self-titled solo debut (review here). But the notion of a Garcia acoustic record goes much further back.
In 1998, after the demise of his former band Kyuss and as the late ’90s stoner rock movement he helped inspire was taking shape — which Garcia would further solidify on the West Coast in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and by contributing to other groups and projects in the early ’00s — he provided the closing track on MeteorCity‘s first release, the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation (discussed here) under the guise of J.M.J., with the song “To Believe.” Just to do some quick math for emphasis, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues arrives 19 years later and finds Garcia an entirely different presence, having long since cemented his legacy in the aforementioned acts and pushed ahead through further work with Hermano, the Garcia Plays Kyuss/Vista Chino semi-reunion of Kyuss, who released their lone album to-date, Peace (review here), in 2013, and his ensuing solo outfit. His vocal approach, guttural at times in the true sense of coming from the gut, but able to be sweetly melodic in its croon, has influenced a generation of heavy rock singers while remaining inimitable.
This nine-track/39-minute offering finds him at the top of his game and seemingly delivering as much for his fans as for himself. It brings together the new material in opener “Kylie,” “Give Me 250ml,” “The Hollingsworth Session,” “Argleben II” — an apparent sequel to “Argleben” from Garcia‘s self-titled — and instrumental closer “Court Order” with Kyuss classics “Green Machine,” “Space Cadet,” “Gardenia” and “El Rodeo,” which of course are reworked to suit the acoustic context. Garcia is right to keep the scale weighted on the side of newer songs, and not that they needed to, but the Kyuss cuts earn their place as well owing to the fact that Garcia played them on his acoustic European tour. In any case, one doubts he’ll get many complaints. On The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, they appear in the order in which I just listed them, with “Green Machine” following “Kylie” at the start of the record and introducing the listener to the notion that, while familiar at their root, the arrangements are fair game when it comes to the older stuff; the signature riff of “Green Machine” becomes a sentimental intertwining of string plucks and Garcia‘s verse vocals — practically shouts on the original — are a subdued croon that well earn the late flourish of keyboard after the last chorus.
The pair “Give Me 250ml” and “The Hollingsworth Session” follow, with the former providing a considerable groove for Garcia to ride as he will — a forceful strum and some backing vocals layered in that make it easy to imagine a full-on heavy version. It’s the shortest track here at 2:58, but leaves an upbeat impression that carries into “The Hollingsworth Session,” which stands as the most complex of the pieces making their first appearance here in its back and forth trades of “loud” and “quiet” — all things relative, right? — and proffers a hook that stands up to the triple-shot block of Kyuss songs that immediately follow. Its layered chorus, prominent bass and energetic start-stop groove lead to a winding guitar solo finale that fits well as a lead-in for the album’s well-deserved centerpiece, “Space Cadet.”
Of all the Kyuss one might include on an acoustic outing, “Space Cadet” probably makes the most sense, since the quiet track from 1994’s mega-crucial Welcome to Sky Valley (and yes, before you get all internet-clever, I know it’s officially a self-titled) was practically unplugged to start with, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It just needs less rearranging as compared to the more driving “Green Machine,” or “Gardenia,” which follows. What seems to be a far-back inclusion of organ or keyboard adds to the forward guitar strum, but it’s Garcia himself carrying “Space Cadet,” which is as it should be, and he makes it a highlight. But for the lyrics, “Gardenia” is hardly recognizable for the hypnotic picking of strings, punctuating percussion and quiet, meditative spirit it’s given. “Hear a purring motor and she’s a-burnin’ fuel/Push it over baby/Makin’ love to you” never sounded more romantic.
Just before two and a half minutes in, the vibe picks up a bit with some slide guitar added to the song’s more bouncing end progression, but like “Green Machine” before it, “Gardenia” gets a considerable reworking for The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, while “El Rodeo,” which begins with a foreboding moment of piano before its guitar introduction, seems to allow itself to be a little more fun. Strings or key-strings back the verse, which Garcia doles out in full-force despite the lack of distortion behind him, letting loose in a cadence that brings together the layered lines of the original in an effective, stage-style presentation. Percussion from Saenz backs the section of instrumental pauses in the second half, and the repetitions of the title bring “El Rodeo” to a vibrant finish, leading to the more atmospheric “Argleben II,” which brings piano to the fore alongside the guitar and seems to pull together and swell with each run through its chorus, making for a quick five-minute stretch. It ends on a fade, leading to the closing meditation of “Court Order,” which may or may not actually be included as a result of one.
Somewhat surprising for Garcia — who’s known entirely for his vocals — to cap his first acoustic solo LP with a quick three-minute instrumental, but it may well be that desert rock’s greatest frontman is sending a message of branching out and letting his audience know they should do likewise in terms of what they might expect from him. Given that, as noted, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues has been nearly two decades in the making in one form or another, one hesitates to think of what a follow-up might bring, but one thing to note is that with a catalog as vast as his has been, if he’s looking to blend new material and old on records like this, there is a wealth of songs ripe for reinterpretation. Thinking of tracks like Slo Burn‘s “Muezli,” “Hermano‘s “Brother Bjork” or Unida‘s “Slaylina,” or even Vista Chino‘s “Adara,” there would seem to be little reason a conversation between Garcia and his fans in this manner couldn’t be ongoing. There are numerous contingencies to consider there, including the Slo Burn reunion happening this year — will that result in a studio album? — and persistent rumors of a new Hermano record, which would be their first in a decade, so one can’t necessarily guess where Garcia might be headed following this release. But that’s part of what makes it enjoyable as a moment finally captured, and the realization of The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues should be considered a landmark in one of heavy rock’s most pivotal careers.
Tags: California, John Garcia, John Garcia The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, Napalm Records, Palm Desert, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues