Rivers Garcia’s Santa Cruz is a timeless twelve song collection opening with the cut “Drive”. There is a cinematic flavor to many of the songs on this album thanks to Garcia’s tendency to add sound effects to the beginning of each track. It is simple but including the sound of someone starting their car at the song’s beginning gives it a little additional drama rather than sounding pointless. The first half of the opener has an understated tone before transforming with the inclusion of harmonica and electric guitar. The album’s second track “Mustang Blues” dispenses with the abundant electric guitar, never forgoing it entirely, but focusing much more on the track’s acoustic pedigree. His lyrical talents take root with this song and, despite the title grounding it in a particular style, it is obvious Garcia refuses to allow his talents to be constrained by arbitrary rules of a genre.
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“Stick Shift” has a brisk tempo without ever racing away with itself. His guitar work, always fluid, nevertheless sounds like no one else and its idiosyncratic leanings give him an overall sound far different from his contemporaries or peers. Even if his music shares a common frame of reference with other styles, you will never mistake Rivers Garcia for anyone else. “Blues and Sympathy” has a languid tempo appropriate for a bluesy style and the electric guitar spiking the track has ample bite and soul alike. Garcia’s voice is ideally suited for this style of music and rife with emotion.
The unadorned acoustic track “Palm Trees, West L.A.” has the effect of performed poetry without ever sounding pretentious. Garcia’s production does an excellent job of maintaining an even-handed balance between the guitar and his voice but both are captured with sparkling fidelity. “Santa Cruz” is an exceptional title track put over the top by the electric guitar added to the composition, but it is the lyrics that stand tallest. Garcia’s instincts for seizing upon telling details is at its peak here and it helps make the track stand out. It is continually impressive how Garcia plays every instrument on this release yet there’s such an organic band sound at work throughout these performances.
The multi-tracked vocals running through “Got It All Wrong” gives the track a slightly skewed feel but it isn’t any obstacle for enjoying the performance. The electric guitar sounds like Garcia has listened to a fair amount of Neil Young in his time and has an immediate touch that hits you from the first note. The slow march of “Ideology” helps frame the intelligent lyrical message woven into the composition. There’s a lot to offer listeners on this imperfect release, particularly if you keep your mind open, and anyone serious about great songwriting owes this album an opportunity to summon its magic. Rivers Garcia’s Santa Cruz is a bit too laid back at times, but there is no doubting the emotional and artistic investment Garcia has made to make this album a resounding success. Let’s hope we hear more from him soon.
by Bethany Page