Taste Good Music
Truth marks the fifth solo album for Nashville-based harmonicist, singer-songwriter Tim Gartland. The dozen songs were all written or co-written by Gartland, who learned from the best in Chicago, having been mentored by Jerry Portnoy. Gartland cites as major influences Little Walter for harp playing, Ray Charles for song interpretation, and Willie Dixon for songwriting. From 1989 through 2015, when Garland relocated to Nashville, he was a major fixture in the Boston blues scene, and he released his first two albums there. Truth is his third since moving to Music City and follows 2019’s Satisfied. Naturally he is fallen in with some of the city’s best roots musicians and songwriters, becoming an active member of the Nashville Songwriters Association.
Since 2017’s If You Want a Good Woman, Gartland has relied on a close circle of musicians, primarily the ubiquitous keyboard player and producer, Kevin McKendree, who again produced and mixed this album. Longtime McKendree compadre, bassist Steve Mackey returns but the remaining lineup has shifted slightly to include drummer Kenneth Blevins (John Hiatt),) Ray Desilvis (acoustic guitar and vocals), and Bryan Brock (percussion). Guitarist Robert Frahm (Blues Warriors) returns from Satisfied and in-demand vocalist Wendy Moten, like McKendree, makes her third consecutive appearance. Gartland is a gifted harmonica player with a clean amplified tone, who plays with more nuance than fire whether using diatonic or chromatic harps. He sings with deep but relaxed soul, aided by Wendy Moten’s background vocals, and crisp tasty solos from mostly Frahm and McKendree, along with his own rather economical harp excursions. The album was cut live in the studio in just two days.
Gartland’s songs may best be described as blues-infused, leaning more to the Americana side of the pendulum than blues. They are authentic and well crafted, replete with a sense of humor and catchy hooks. He begins with “Don’t Mess With My Heart,” (co-written with Pat Gartland) with its Stones-like groove and its plea for more sincerity from his woman. From inception, Moten’s harmonies are key to the sound which brings a few subtle touches like NOLA strains in “Leave Well Enough Alone” and Latin strains for the key track, “The Thing About The Truth”, co-written with Karen Leipziger (who among other talents, was a major co-writer for the late Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater), it best captures the album’s theme. “The promises you never kept should have been a clue/The web of lies and half-truths I should have seen right through/Seeing what you wanted me to I wanted to believe/Smoke, mirrors and sleight of hand designed to deceive”.
McKendree’s piano and Gartland’s harp kick off the vintage R&B and clever wordplay of “Cloudy With The Chance Of Blues” (co-written with McKendree), making parallels to the weather for a man who regrets his role in a romantic break up. “Outta Sight Outta Mind” has Gartland, and Moten engaged in infectious call and response vocals as McKendree’s piano and some slick fills form Frahm provide a nice underpinning as well as a tasty Frahm solo. “One Love Away” has a crisp harmonica intro and blossoms into a blissful singalong with co-writer Desilvis and Moten on harmony backing Gartland.
Highlights in the second half include the piano-harp workout “Wish I Could Go Back,” featuring Desilvis on slide guitar and harmony. This one has the swampiest, greasiest feel of all, thus a standout. “Mind Your Own Business” is another vintage one, filled with witty phrases, crisp solos from McKendree’s piano and Frahm’s guitar, giving it a joyful bounce. The closer, “Save Sammy Some,” is a straight-ahead instrumental blues, with a long runway for Gartland’s harp and McKendree’s piano excursions. When Frahm steps out, his solo, true to Nashville, has a little twang too.
Gartland sits at the intersection of blues and Americana. His songwriting continues to evolve and this is his strongest outing yet.
- Jim Hynes