Ever wonder what John Hammond might sound like trying out a Randy Newman impersonation while leading Delbert McClinton’s band in a smoky room at the back edge of the French Quarter? Probably not. But those thoughts struck me while digging deeply into Tim Gartland’s fifth album, “Truth.”
Right off during the southern rhythm and bluesy, piano-rolling Stones-y “Don’t Mess with My Heart,” you’re absolutely compelled to dig deep, and bop and sway. Gartland proves himself a collaborative songwriter’s songwriter on it, and all 11 that follow. Singing from personal experience in a roasted molasses drawl, he peppers his performances with pied piper-tuneful harmonica. The A-List band — the incredibly prolific Kevin McKendree (a Delbert associate) on piano and organ, guitarists Robert Frahm and Ray Desilvis, bassist Steve Mackey (also by way of McClinton), and John Hiatt’s Goners drummer Ken Blevins — play strong but unfussy music that flows like a lazy trip down the Mississippi and rocks and rolls in the mud of its banks.
Produced in just two days of live takes by McKendree at his Rock House studio outside Nashville, Gartland’s songs travel in several directions, but always find the perfect way to down home. New Orleans glows in their melodies, ever so slightly and sometimes overtly, but so do flavors that Gartland picked up along his way from his Ohio home to stops in Chicago, Boston, and now Nashville. In fact, the album’s namesake highlight, “The Thing About the Truth,” rides easy on an addicting Latin melody while Gartland delivers a potent message about the value of honesty. That follows the second line syncopated “Leave Well Enough Alone,” but precedes “Cloudy with a Chance of the Blues,” another rocker with its tubers deeply entrenched in southern soil.
Backing vocalists, especially Wendy Moten, add charmingly to the overall soulfulness on hand. Gartland’s harmonica playing — inspired by Little Walter but literally schooled by Jerry Portnoy (both of Muddy Waters’ bands) — stands out no matter the setting. Listen to and marvel at his facility in “Outta Sight Outta Mind.” Just like the guitars and the piano and the singing as well, there’s nothing flashy at play, just extraordinarily genuine blues.
A plea to be a little better, get a little closer to one another, “One Love Away” might seem a far-fetched dream right now, but it’s a worthy one, and the upbeat old-school soul of it offers something to grab onto, to think about, and to get lost in just as well. Along with “The Thing About the Truth,” it encapsulates the ideals presented on what ranks as one of the top roots and blues recordings of 2022.
Label: Taste Good Music
Release: March 18, 2022