Seattle’s Hard Garden trio is so adept at connecting Mississippi blues vocals, harmonicas, and guitars to contemporary electronic music that all 10 original songs on their first album warrant repeated listening. Son Jack Jr. and colleagues take wicked delight in setting moods of acute uneasiness: “I Feel Evil” (bad guy in psychological distress). “The Valley” (child abandonment) and several more. But they lighten up considerably for the digital-beat dance tune “Showtime!” and the bizarre talking-dog-in-barroom tale “Pour Me Another”. And their liberal makeover of Son House’s cotton-field work song “Depot Blues”, the only non-original, is a small wonder. It sounds like they’ve commandeered a locomotive at the junction of 1930’s Illinois Central and 21st-century Amtrak rail tracks. The Gardeners honor blues tradition at the same time they wryly overhaul it. (Review by Frank-John Hadley)
Hard Garden is a beacon that lights the path for the Blues to move forward. With respect for the past but unafraid of the future, this is where the Blues thrives. Hard Garden plants sweet fruit for the future of the Blues. (Jimi Patricola)
It always amazes me when artists change up their music and still manage come out with a simply brilliant sound. Such is the case with Hard Garden, a newly formed trio that hail out of Seattle, Washington, consisting of Son Jack Jr., (Guitar/Vocals/Bass), Michael Wilde (Harp/Vocals), and Garrett Williams (Guitar/Percussion/Bass/Keys). Son Jack Jr., and Michael Wilde had previously released the critically acclaimed album "Walk The Talk" in 2010, an album which had no problem getting my nod as Best USA Blues Album in my 2010 Year End Review and #2 on my 2010 Top 10 Albums List. "Blue Yonder" marks Son Jack Jr. and Michael Wilde's debut release as Hard Garden, and although still only January of 2014, as I write this review, I got a pretty good feeling that this beauty will still be a mighty big consideration for me come Year End Review and Top 10 List time.
According to Hard Garden's website, "the concept behind the Hard Garden project is to bring forward all that’s appealing and meaningful about deep blues and give it a more contemporary feel. The blues is not unlike an old plot of land that was once fertile but has suffered from neglect over the years, and become a hard garden".
"Blue Yonder" consists of 11 really infectiously sounding Tracks, 7 written by Son Jack Jr., 2 written by Michael Wilde, 1 written by Garrett Williams, and 1 cover of Son House's called "Depot Blues". "Blue Yonder" was Produced by Son Jack Jr., Michael Wilde, and Garrett Williams, with Williams also stepping in as Engineer. Tim Scudder also gets credit for the Track 11 ReMix.
"Blue Yonder" starts the ball rolling with "I Feel Evil", a somewhat laid back easy listening shuffle, that introduces us to the great Vocals of Son Jack Jr., the great harp work of Michael Wilde, and the mighty fine percussion work of Garrett Williams. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just a mighty fine done blues song.
If nothing out of the ordinary, is where "I Feel Evil" started, it is also where nothing out of the ordinary stops, as Track 2 "Depot Blues", is where what the sound that is Hard Garden, really starts to take hold, as they get a great groove going around the 45 second mark of this beauty and really never stop as they present us with a beat, that although it is the Blues, it would also rock the floor at any modern nightclub, with it's Electronic Music feel.
"Blue Yonder" has no problem conjuring up a bountiful display of unique Tracks, with Track 3 "Hey Now Mary", channeling a nice Hill Country feel ala Fife and Drum.
Track 4 "Papa's In The Juke Joint" continues in that vein, but this time it also throws in a little Rap feel to the mix.
The next 4 Tracks on "Blue Yonder", "I Can Tell", "The Valley", "Dangerous", and "Pour Me Another", were actually my favorites and had not only brought a varied mix of genres to the table, but also included a couple that told really fine stories, most notably, "The Valley", which dealt with an abandoned child and his suicidal mother explaining, "It'll All Be Better When I'm Gone", and my favorite of them all, "Pour Me Another", described as a Hilarious, Funky, "Shaggy Dog Story about a talking dog in a bar". The commentary is told in English Bloke style and in between the talking we have Michael Wilde playing some mean Harp, with Garrett Williams doing some nice work on Keys. A great tune that will surely bring you a few big smiles and more than a few hits on the replay button.
The album closes out nicely with 3 remaining Tracks that take us even deeper into the realm of Electronic Blues, ending with Track 7 "Dangerous", returning in a more hip remix.
All in all, I found "Blue Yonder" to be a very entertaining and very fresh sounding contemporary form of the Blues, which took essential elements of real Blues and brought them out into the open with the addition of a Electronic beat. This is really amazing stuff and I commend Hard Garden for taking the chance and making this very creative album.
5***** for "Blue Yonder". Thoroughly Enjoyed and Highly Recommended.
Review by John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)
Seattle is building quite a lexicon of electronic based music and the trio Hard Garden aim to add a little blues to the mix. Delta blues duo Son Jack Jr. and Michael Wilde along with mix master Garret Williams have released their first full length album ‘Blue Yonder,’ a fresh take on the basis of all pop music.aka... “the blues,” by mixing it with an entirely programmed backup, full of found and sampled sounds. Anchored by Son Jack’s deep groovin’ guitar and Wilde’s hot harp, the tunes run the gamut from dance hall stomp to tales of personal lament.
The first highlight begins by quoting founding father Son House and then transforming his classic “Depot Blues,” into a Euro dance party anthem. The deep dark funk of “Papa’s In The Juke Joint,” burns with some nasty slide playing and EDM drop outs, and the southern fried techno tango “I can Tell,” would be suitable for the Treme’ soundtrack. Jack penned his own theme song in the gritty riff based “Dangerous,” and we are treated to a bonus remix version from Scudder, who gives it the full treatment. The saucy tale of a bloke on a bar stool and a talking dog “Pour Me Another,” display’s not only Son Jack’s droll wit and charm but some hot harp licks from Wilde who then recants his own night of debauchery on the minor key technotic “Maximum Insecurity.” The frolicking “Showtime,” is a light hearted tribute to the God father of soul.
HG describe the blues as, “not unlike an old plot of land that was once fertile but has suffered from neglect over the years, and become a hard garden.” With Blue Yonder the group may indeed have sparked some new growth in a genre that undeniably is at the root of all things and deserves to be nurtured to a fresh spring
I just received the new release (January 7, 2014), Blue Yonder, from Hard Garden and they are putting their own contemporary spin on the blues.
Opening with I Feel Evil, a shuffle track with cool harp by Michael Wilde and vocals by Son Jack Jr. Son House's Depot Blues get a bit more of a light upbeat rock tempo but still holding onto blues roots. Hey Now Mary has a definite hill country blues sound with authentic style fingering and simple rhythmic percussion. Cool track. Papa's In The Juke Joint maintains the primitive guitar sound but with a more modern drum rhythm. Vocals on this track have a modern spoken rhythm and slide guitar and harp give it a fuller dynamic. A cool electric guitar solo on this track is also particularly interesting. I Can Tell goes full force into a "smooth" Latin rhythm. This track has the most potential for airplay on the release. The Valley has a different vocal style from the rest of the release and actually puts me in mind of "Secret Agent Man meets Death Don't Have No Mercy". Very cool. Dangerous takes a hard turn into electronica styling with rock undertones. Flailing slide work on this track is particularly cool. Pour Me Another is an interesting blues melody on guitar with light percussion and spoken story along the lines of a modern Savoy Brown from the 70's. Cool Track with interesting harp work from Wilde. Maximum Insecurity has a club beat with traces of blues and hints to Parchment Farm. Showtime is a cool mix with blues roots but with modern percussion and mix vocals. Guitar and harp riffs throughout add width but it's the cool sax on this track that makes it slick. Wrapping with Dangerous, remixed by Tim Scudder, a definite dance mix is lead by a relentless bass kick drum beat and electronic sounds. With loops and additions of vocals and sounds this is an interesting track to complete a daring blues geared effort.
Make no mistake, Hard Garden’s new release, Blue Yonder (Hard Garden Music), ain’t your Daddy’s blues album. It’s a nice refreshing splash of originality in the blues genre, mixing the traditional sounds of Mississippi Delta and Hill Country blues with modern touches, such as digital beats, sequencers, and remixed tracks, with traces of funk and hip-hop thrown in for good measure.
You might be familiar with some of the band members. Seattle-based Son Jack, Jr. (guitar, bass, vocals) has released a pair of well-received solo CDs. Michael Wilde (harmonica, vocals) has been performing for over 30 years and previously joined forces with Jack for a 2010 release, Walk The Talk. Drummer Garrett Williams is a veteran musician equally versed in blues, jazz, and funk.
Blue Yonder starts off calmly enough with the somewhat ominous shuffle, “I Feel Evil,” before moving to the lone cover on the album, Son House’s “Depot Blues,” opening with some nice guitar work from Jack, then the track jumps into the 21st century with some fine harp work from Wilde mixed in. “Hey Now Mary” has more of a Hill Country feel with the almost hypnotic guitar and percussion. The rock-edged “Papa’s In The Juke Joint” is next, with Jack rapping the lyrics, followed by the Latin-flavored “I Can Tell.” Wilde takes the mic on “The Valley,” a positively chilling song about a youngster kicked to the curb by his parents that oozes with suspense and swampy atmosphere. “Dangerous” is the most “modern” track on the disc, with a wall of electric slide guitar and thumping bass, repeated at the end of the disc in a “Remix” version. “Pour Me Another” is a wild and humorous track about a talking dog, narrated by Jack, and “Maximum Security” offers Wilde narrating another witty track, backed by some tasty slide guitar and percussion.
Blue Yonder is a pretty fun listen. It’s always interesting to hear musicians take the blues into new directions and Hard Garden is highly effective in their efforts to do so. It will be interesting to see where they go from here because the possibilities are limitless. --- Graham Clarke
This album will definitely upset the purists and probably will only be of passing interest to most hard core blues fans; for the Seattle based trio Hard Garden, who are; blues guitarist / singer, Son Jack Jr. harmonica player / teacher, Michael Wilde and Garrett Williams; guitar, percussion, bass and keyboards.
They together, have engineered and produced an album that attempts to merge the blues, with electronic dance music. If my memory serves me correctly, the first time this new genre was successfully attempted, it was in two thousand and four by NuBlues led by Ramon Goose; now, with this new offering it is a slightly different case for the first number is a straight down the line original blues number by Son Jack which features his deeply dark bass vocals keenly matched by some lonesome and raw harmonica playing from Michael but, then we get a very interesting version of Son Houses’ “Depot”, for we hear delicate acoustic guitar paired with deep down mixed vocals and harmonica underpinned by tripping, loping, hopping percussion and drum work. The rather sweet jingling guitar work of “Hey Now Mary”, is elegantly matched with electronic marching martial drumming and percussion but, we hit very deep water with “Papa’s in the Juke Joint”, for here we get the full urban treatment, jangling jarring guitar, dirty harmonica deeply mixed echoing vocals and the trippy, hoppy, boppy bouncing percussion. Full tilt bass percussion programming is featured on the prowling Dobro led and harmonica interjecting “Dangerous”, giving it full dance floor menace. “The Valley”, is a dark, sombre slow-burning tale of a violent father and suicidal mother, which has echoes of the Doors and Nick Cave. “Maximum Insecurity”, involves black humoured tales concerning inmate treatment in Cook County Jail, it mixes tripping bass drums and percussion with harmonica and Dobro delta swamp blues. “Showtime”, is an inventive trippy funk tribute to James Brown, while the remixed “Dangerous”, is simply a denser deeper mixed, bass percussion driven dance floor hopper. Lastly there is the monologue “Pour Me Another”, which is a long drawn out dog joke that is spoken in a London English accent over a dub Dobro and harmonica backing.
This is an intriguing musical / spoken assortment of tunes, there is as they say something for everyone. Only when H.G. further tightens their musical focus can a more definitive opinion be given. Fascinating! Brian Harman.
Wow! All new stuff from the blues world. Contemporary Delta, electronic, looping, singing through the harp mike, wake up your tired head stuff! Time to go with Hard Garden and their new CD “Blue Yonder.” Certainly not what you would expect from a traditional Northwest Delta band, but very nice.
Son Jack Jr., Garrett Williams, and Michael Wilde have put together some really good tracks here. Slide, screams, great vocals, money drums, ace harmonica work, “Old Blues for a New World.” That’s my quote. Always wanted to use that for a CD title. Anyway, here it is. I think you’ll like it too. Lotsa’ funk, blues, open spaces, cool licks, fat rhythms, and things you haven’t heard.
It takes a lot of nerve to step out here and go this far from the Delta, but they pull it off. Every instrument is good and clean, while carrying that Mississippi mud right out of the headstock of the guitars, and the throats of the people. I’m counting eleven cuts with every one harboring a new trick or a new and pleasing slant on the blues. As for me liking “Depot Blues,” “Showtime,” and “Dangerous.” “Showtime,” kind of surprises me because of its way NOT traditional rhythms, that absolutely work! Funky Delta! Did I say that? Anyway….better check it out. No reason to believe me. Trust your own ears.
Just trying to help you out here. HARDGARDENMUSIC.COM or find them on Facebook at Hardgardenmusic, and of course you tube for some cool video stuff. It’s a new yea, try something new. Well old. Well new. Give it a try, you will be surprised, and like it. Your friend, blue barry
Hailing from Seattle, the trio that comprise Hard Garden—Son Jack, Jr. on guitar and vocals, Michael Wilde on harp and vocals, and Garrett Williams on bass, keys and drums-take the grunge-inspired rock of that city and mixes it with the deepest, darkest blues of the Delta and the straight-up funk of James Brown. The result is their brilliant debut, “Blue Yonder,” with its ten originals and one cover.
For a debut, this one takes traditional blues in a decidedly-different direction thru the extensive use of the percussive skills of Garrett and the booming, Doomsday vocals of Son Jack, Jr. That’s the thing that hits you first, in the ominous opener, “I Feel Evil.” A young man’s coming-of-age at the hands of an overly-aggressive woman is documented in the acoustic-themed, marching beat of “Hey Now Mary,” while “Showtime!” explores the opposite end of the band’s wide spectrum, as it rides over Son’s quirky raps and Michael’s harp, and a horn section so funky you’ll expect to hear somebody shoutin’out to Maceo!!
Michael Wilde takes the vocal spotlight on one of the strongest, yet darkest, cuts on the set. “The Valley” traces the lives of a family beset by the abandonment of the child by the father, and the subsequent suicidal tendencies of the mother. The ending is tragic, in keeping with the song’s underlying thread of “it’ll all be better when I’m gone.”
We had two favorites, too. Son’s deft picking on Son House’s “Depot Blues” is augmented by echo-effect vocals, Michael’s country-blues harp, and the hellhound-on-my-tail percussive strikes from Garrett. And, the demise of the American Dream is perhaps the best reason that “Papa’s In The Juke Joint shakin’ it down,” with its Hill-country vibe.
Hard Garden has taken the old-school blues and given them a decidedly-urban remix by way of the sounds of Seattle. “Blue Yonder” screams for an encore, hopefully in the near future! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.
Hard Garden is definitely not your run of the mill blues band but that is not to say they are not a blues band. They venture into areas that few have felt comfortable to even entertain the thought of but even at their most bizarre, they maintain enough elements of the blues to catch my attention…and I am admittedly not easy to impress.
The three-piece unit, based in Seattle, knows their stuff…no doubt about that. Son Jack Jr. is an award winning guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer who has achieved widespread acclaim since hitting the Seattle blues scene in 2006. In this time he has released two solo albums and a third album in collaboration with Michael Wilde. Garrett Williams is a Cornish College of Arts trained musician and has been playing Jazz, Funk and Blues all over the globe since the age of 14. He is a multi-award winning engineer, musician and producer, and released his first album in 2010. Michael Wilde is a native of New York, and has spent over 30 years performing and teaching blues harmonica. He is a multi-award winning musician, singer and songwriter with numerous recording credits to his name.
All original tunes with the exception of Son House’s “Depot Blues”, I will warn the hardcore traditionalist that this one may not be that thing you are looking for, but if you have an adventurous spirit and a true love of the blues, you might just find this one to be of interest. Elements of hip-hop peppered with traditional blues brings Blue Yonder home in much the same way not unlike very early blues/rockers. The musicianship is right on the money, the arrangements are intriguing, to say the least and the message, through and through is blues, no holds barred. While I found myself getting lost on a couple of occasions, I found myself, oddly enough, enjoying what I was hearing. If there is one thing that this band does have, it would be tremendous potential. As I listen to them playing I hear pure blues, blues/rock, elements of hip-hop, country and more.
Exceptional storytellers, these three guys can grab and hold your attention. An eclectic band to be sure, this is one band who can accomplish whatever they set out to do, no questions asked. If you are ready to take a walk on the wild side, give Hard Garden’s “Blue Yonder” a listen. You might just find yourself becoming a fan. After listening to the band repeatedly I found myself hearing more and more with each pass through.- Bill Wilson
HARD GARDEN/Blue Yonder: Old school blues brought into the modern era is on tap here. They bring the moves, reject the clichés and know how to reach the inner frat boy in kids of all ages. Having grown up in Seattle in the middle of grunge, this bunch is aware of their circumstances without being wary of what they have to do. Fun stuff that you almost don't believe it's as good as it is because it's so indie without agenda. Well done throughout.
Hard Garden makes its debut with the album Blue Yonder. This isn’t your grandpa’s idea of the blues. Blue Yonder mixes many classic aspects of blues rock with a fresh and contemporary feel. Hard Garden is a trio consisting of Son Jack Jr., Garrett Williams, and Michael Wilde.
“I Feel Evil” kicks off Blue Yonder. There is nothing particularly stand out about the track, but the fun hasn’t quite hit yet. “Depot Blues” begins with a lo-fi crackle before rolling into the song. This track mixes a bit of a funky, almost electronic feel with the blues. It’s definitely a unique track.
Blue Yonder brings plenty of different genres to the table. Along with the blues and electronic sounds found throughout the album, “I Can Tello” has a nice little flair of Latin spice. The harmonica solos throughout the song catch your attention more than any other aspect of the song. Some of the best story telling is done on the track “The Valley,” which brings you along on a rollercoaster of a night for a dysfunctional family. This track also shows plenty of vocal diversity.
“Dangerous” has easily the most electronic feel of Blue Yonder. The track is very bass and guitar riff filled. It is definitely reminiscent of Fat Boy Slim. “Maximum Insecurity” starts out with another killer harmonica solo. Blue Yonder ends with the track “Dangerous.” “Dangerous” is probably the least blues-like track on the album, but it’s easily the most danceable track on the album.
Although the Electronic Blues is a very unique distinct genre, many of the songs on Blue Yonder tend to sound very similar to one another to the point where you aren’t really sure if the song has changed to a new track. It will be interesting to see what Hard Garden plans on doing with their sound. I don’t quite think they perfected their sound, but they’re on the right track for something new and different that could make waves.
The Review: 7/10
The first month of 2014 is due to be jam-packed with blues releases. To usher in the New Year on 7th January is something that sounds distinctly new: Hard Garden’s debut, Blue Yonder, which breeds deep Muddy-esque blues vocals and gritty guitars with sequencers and digital beats to create a sound that’s got one foot in the past and one firmly in the future. One to watch for sure!
A rambling laconic track that fully displays the bonafides of this Seattle Trio. A stumbling rolling ballad that is as fresh as it is creative. A wonderful start to this album.
Instantly recognizable as Son House's classic song. This is not a run of the mill cover done as safely as possible but is rather a whole new interpretation that is creative and eminently listenable. Country Blues licks, echoing vocals, solid percussion and harp licks at the listener. A messy at times recording that works oh so well add to the flavour of the Jack vocals sung through a harp microphone contribute to this tale of heartache.
Close your eyes and enjoy this homage to Hill Country Drum and Fife music of the early years of last century. An exquisite mix of guitar, and solid drumming carries this track along with Jack's solid vocals.
Here we have Jack extolling how he doesn't want to live like his father. Dark and menacing, driving a deathly beat to accentuate the sentiments. Ever since l was twelve l just didn't want to be you, papa's in the juke joint shaking it down says it all.
This has a definite Latino Flamenco feel to it as Jack delivers a solid tale of love and it's pitfalls filled with venom and spite. You are the type to take it all and leave me with nothing clearly states you are trouble.
Michael Wilde takes lead on this ballad with a style differing greatly from the delivery of Jack. A story reminiscent of the Omnipresent Blues giant "St James Infirmary". A heart wrenching tale of life that begins with the abandonment by his father and a mother who is suicidal and unable to cope. The pain shows through with the line "It'll all be better when l'm gone". Mournful and moody as well as thought provoking.
On the Delta with a swamp Blues that has a dark menacing feel to it. Jack delivers in a part spoken part singing style to emphasise the slide guitar. Jack is standing his ground and does not feel that he is displaying and fear what so ever. The swamp beat grinds along without relenting on the=is solid Blues offering.
This could be an Englishman or an Australian in a bar with a dog story to tell. Spoken word with a faux accent to carry the tale. The band shines throughout with Wilde's harmonica stunning. A fantasy of as preforming dog and all of the wondrous achievements it supposedly has made. Of course he had to purchase it and appear throughout the country.
Wilde takes singing duties of this story of woe. An intricate instrumental track with organ, harmonica, slide guitar and percussion laying down a rock solid bass to this ditty.
A funky train chugging percussive beat on this almost instrumental piece albeit for the call and response of the title throughout in a tongue in cheek piece a la James Brown.
Wonderful percussive beat set in motion this "Scudder Remix". A down and dirty dance fuelled mix that again breaks new ground for the group.
This is an album not like any other l have heard before. It is fresh and original in it's interpretation of modern Blues that does not forget the journey thus taken to this point in time. I can see a whole new generation of listeners along with the "Bluescologist" enjoying their foray into the Blues Hard Garden style. Have to say l love it a lot.