CD and DVD reviews
40 Below Blues (2016)
’40 Below Blues’ … is an album with twelve acoustic tracks, a collection of original songs and some covers. It is almost a solo album as Garner has placed his faith on some numbers on harmonica player harmonica player Neil Billington and violinist Robbie Laven. With this album Garner returns to his original love, the country blues.
Garner opens with an original track ”Went Up On the Mountain”, in which he sings about the feeling of freedom that comes when you escape cities and civilisation. “Brownsville Blues” (a Sleepy John Estes cover) is a track with guitar and violin in the style of blues guitarist Walter E. “Fury” Lewis. ”Blue Is Falling” byTim O’Brien is a song about depression and ”Still Your Loving Man” is an rearranged original that Garner had recorded as early as in 2003 and to which Neil Billington cleverly adds harmonica colour. The first of two Charlie Patton’s songs, “Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1”, was first recorded in 1929 (”High Sheriff Blues” was recorded 'in 1934 when Patton was imprisoned after a fight). The James Lee is a riverboat and Jim Lee was the founder of a line of boats. Stagolee (or Stackerlee) is thought to have been Jim Lee's grandson. “Blues Singer”, another original, is a song about Garner’s Beltona Southerner resonator guitar. Brownie McGhee’s”The Way I Feel” shows the big influence on Garner of this folk and blues singer (who worked with harmonica player Sonny Terry).
In “Going South” Garner singsabout the strong winds that must be defied if you travel to the South Island. ”John Hardy” is a traditional song recorded by Leadbelly among others. Hardy was a real person, hanged in front of a large audience in West Virginia in 1984. Bo Carter was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks. Carter and his brothers first learned music from their father, the violinist Henderson Chatmon. ”How Can It Be” is one of his love songs. The closing track ”Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me” is another Bo Carter cover. The lyrics are especially interesting because Garner shows great understanding of the brutal exploration of sexuality hidden in the lyrical allusions.
Mike Garner brings with his album ’40 Below Blues’ excellent acoustic blues from a place on the coastline some 40 degrees below the equator. In doing so he confirms that blues music connects all cultures, even if the performer lives geographically a long way from the origins of the music in the Southern States of the United States.
Eric Schuurmans; Rootstime, Belgium, Nov 2016
40 Below Blues (2016)
It's actually been a pretty big year for Mike. He's gigged throughout New Zealand and been overseas to play in both Japan – his third tour there – and Norfolk Island. In amongst that he released a new album, an evocatively-named and beautifully-recorded collection of mainly old blues songs. It's called ‘40 Below Blues' which sounds like a Muddy Waters title but is actually a reference to New Zealand's latitudinal place in the world, sitting as we do on the 40 degrees south line. It's actually a bit of departure for Mike. But not a musical departure particularly. For those who know Mike's excellent slide guitar playing and authentically lived-in blues voice, this is exactly what you hear when he plays live. But it's the first time for some years he's recorded in such a stripped-down setting, with just the intricate blues harp of Neil Billington on three songs and old-timey fiddle from the Bay's own Robbie Laven on another two.
Exploring old blues
The choice of material is also different. Mike has long enjoyed a reputation as a fine blues songwriter but this set is primarily dedicated to some delightfully obscure old blues songs. I say “delightfully obscure” because as a blues aficionado I do get tired of repeated recordings of the same Robert Johnson songs and other popular contenders. Every genre has its standards but there are only so many times you can hear them without the onset of creeping boredom. No such problem here. Mike has unearthed a bunch of great, largely unknown songs from two great Charlie Patton numbers – known as the grandfather of Delta blues, he was a man idolised by Robert Johnson and famous for playing guitar behind his head decades before it became “a thing” – to the traditional “John Hardy”, a Sleepy John Estes tune, and two from the wonderful Bo Carter, one in Carter's typical “dirty blues” style laden with food-inspired double entendres. It's called ‘Your Biscuits are Good Enough For Me', one a rare serious moment complete with lovely fiddle. There's also a song from American singer-mandolin player Tim O'Brien whom some might remember from his visit to the Tauranga Arts Festival. It was all recorded at The Colourfield in Welcome Bay and has a lovely sound. In case you can't tell, I like it.
The physical CD is only available at Mike's live gigs (or possibly his Facebook page if you ask). But you can download the album through iTunes and the usual suspects.
Winston Watusi; The Sun, New Zealand, Dec 2016
Mike Garner was raised on the blues in the UK, but has lived in New Zealand for close on 25 years. His 6th album showcases his work as a solo artist and as a trio.
Garner kicks off with "Devil Played The Harp", a crossroads-style tale which involves selling your soul to become proficient on the harp, which nicely sets the tone for the album. There is a light airy feel to the material here, and you get the feeling that Garner enjoys what he does. He encompasses a range of styles including gospel (the very fine "Circle Round The Sun"), bossa nova ("Dream Within A Dream"), and mambo ("Why A Woman Gets The Blues"). Most of the songs are original, including the excellent "Baby Don't Do That" with its shades of Papa George Lightfoot. Garner throws a jaunty reading of "You Gonna Wreck My Life" (aka "How Many More Years"), with some fine picking on the resonator, and very neat interpretations of "Honkey Tonk Women" and Tony Joe White's "Cool Town Woman".
"Why A Woman Gets The Blues" shows that Mike Garner is a very talented musician. It is a collection of songs, all played with aplomb, regardless of whether delivered solo (guitar/harp) or with the band. The UK's loss has definitely been NZ's gain! Rating 8.
Gordon Baxter, Blues in Britain, December 2011
This is simply an excellent album.
Besides a highly original cover of the Stones' world famous number "Honky Tonk Women" there are a variety of styles and songs to listen to, almost all equally fascinating. Another great cover is Howling Wolf's "You Gonna Wreck My Life" with Mike playing brilliantly on resonator guitar.
Garner is playing mostly solo on this CD, and is wonderfully supported by guest musicians, such as Liam Ryan on the piano, as demonstrated on title song, a sublime interweaving of tango rhythm and Mike's slide guitar. The man's talents may be fully heard on the closing instrumental "Elegiac Blues'. Resonator, banjo, mandolin and slide are all there in this fine slow blues. The man is also a solid harmonica player on Tony Joe White's most delicious just "Cool Town Woman" which is not to be missed.
This is an inviting album that will surely make you look forward to hearing more work by the man. Mike Garner is a fascinating artist that you absolutely must discover.
Rootstime - Belgium
Maybe not suggested by the title but this 11-track CD from Ode is a real pleasure. Rotorua-based blues guitarist and song-writer Garner, has previously taken third place in Nashville’s International Songwriting Competition and can claim other musical achievements in the US. ‘Why A Woman Gets The Blues’ is his sixth official release since 1999, and it’s a tasteful, professional and well-presented set of (mostly) bluesy originals. The album does feature an old Rolling Stones cover (Honky Tonk Women) and Cool Town Woman, a tune by Louisiana folk singer Tony Joe White. The songs are thoughtfully varied and coloured with different styles throughout the album; from raw acoustic blues to balmy Latin-tinged blues, to hard-living, down-and-out electric blues. There are some rootsy, pop-rock tracks included in the set, which also veers off into contemporary jazz/Steely Dan-like territory on Dream Within A Dream. The rhythm section’s arrangements and production tones are pretty much perfect, so if you have an affinity for the American roots and guitar blues genre check this disc out.
Casper Jensen, NZ Musician, Dec 2012
I can not recall having any Blues records cross my desk from New Zealand before and I like what I hear. If this is a sample of what might be available down there then bring it on. Overall this album works really well with little clutter in the production which is kind of the way I like it. A very tasty cover of the Jagger/Richards classic 'Honky Tonk Women' is so far removed from the original to be almost a new song but of course balanced with those oh so familiar lyrics making this a highlight on an already fine body of work. So apparently this is album number six from Mike; enjoy this and go search out the others via the Internet.
Graeme Scott, Blues Matters, UK (Nov 2011)
Kathmandu Blues DVD (2010)
... it looks like a splendid time was had by all and the locations for some gigs are breathtakingly exotic. If you are planning that long overdue hiking trip in the region you might want to take time out to factor in the October blues festival.
Graham Reid, Elsewhere
Cad's Alley (2007)
“An album of strong and thoughtful tunes played with a delicate touch and I'd recommend it to any fans of the recent Clapton and Cale collaboration.”
Nick Bollinger, The Sampler, Radio NZ, 2007
" … a superb album complete with good songs. "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" from Billy Myles on acoustic as well as washboard and mandolin is a fantastic performance. Blues fans will continue to enjoy Cad's Alley's very interesting tunes.”
Salvatore Esposito, Il Popolo de Blues, June 2007
" Mike Garner is a superb vocalist and multi-instrumentalis.
This is a very well-rounded, warm and enjoyable romp from the get-go, with the pace not slowing one iota. Recommended buying for all blues enthusiasts around the country"
Peter Dent, NZ Musician Vol 13, June/July 2007
"Cad’s Alley is a very assured blues album, combining fine intelligent songs with well-planned and executed arrangements. It showcases the effortless authenticity of Mike’s voice and the range and skill of his guitar playing."
Weekend Sun, March 2007
"This CD is very imaginative, entertaining, and well-done. It could hold one’s interest through many playings. It is a good representation of Mike Garner’s many talents."
Maria Bainer, May 2007
Drivin' With The Blues (2004)
"Good songs, well sung with plenty of grit. 'Drivin' With The Blues' is one of the best acoustic blues albums to come out of this little country."
NZ Musician, Dec 2005
"Drivin With the Blues is an album of great songs and even better performances. Mike's guitar work is a pleasure to listen to."
The Groove, Queensland, Helen Farley
" ... a guy that makes albums of such kind I just can't wait to put on the stereo.- Mike Garner put so much of himself into the songs that you can simply feel the ooze of love for this type country-blues."
“Drivin’ With The Blues is a good record of acoustic blues and its creator, Mike Garner is a good discovery because of his skills both on the guitar and the harmonica.”
Il Poppolo , Italy
Still Your Lovin' Man (2003)
"The overall strength of the album lies in Mike's original songs and his adept musicianship. Still Your Lovin Man is an excellent acoustic blues album."
Blue Country 101FM, Australia
Steppin' Out To The Blues (1999)
"Mike, founder of the New Zealand Blues Society and editor of the Bluesletter is a first class singer and an outstanding acoustic guitarist."
"It's to Mike's credit that his originals stand up well when compared to the standards they cover here. Steppin' Out should provide a benchmark for blues recordings in New Zealand."
NZ Musician December 1999
"This CD is a great introduction to the diversity and talent that New Zealand's father and son team of Mike and Paul Garner have."
Southland Blues, Feb 2000, California
"These guys have a good feel that fits comfortably in your CD player. The album has some fine playing. Particularly enjoyed the last Slidin' Out track."
Blues Matters, UK Jun-Sep 2000