Have you ever gone camping, and that one friend brings his guitar to play songs around the fire? But the thing is, he can’t really play, he’s a shitty singer, and he only knows Bob Seger songs. You sit there saying to yourself, “I wish I was actually camping with rock legend John Garcia. That would be the best camping trip ever.” Well, we can’t all go camping with John Garcia, but we can all listen to his new unplugged album, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, and we’ll get nearly the same feeling.
Garcia opens the album with a rousing acoustic rock number, “Kylie,” the most energetic song on the record. His voice sounds as good as ever as he takes us on another almost incomprehensible lyrical journey – and by incomprehensible I don’t mean you can’t understand him, I mean you have no idea what the hell he’s singing about (although judging by the accompanying video, the song is about a ritualistic desert abduction). The man has been writing hazy lyrics for decades, and that thankfully doesn’t stop on The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues. It’s part of his legend, after all.
There are three other original songs on this album, two of which are just as cool as “Kylie.” “Give Me 250ML” is a bluesy guitar and vocal number that shows off not only Garcia’s voice but the snappy guitar playing of Ehran Groban, and “The Hollingsworth Session” could be a pretty heavy song if electrified. The third song is an unremarkable instrumental that closes out the album. One song has been remade from John Garcia’s 2014 solo album: “Argleben” reappears here as “Argleben II.” It’s an odd choice, as the original was one of the weaker songs from that record (why not redo “Confusion” or “My Mind?”), but his version here is an improvement, eerie and pensive, barely resembling the original.
As for the Kyuss songs, Garcia takes the driving “Green Machine” and transforms it into a slow, quiet, countrified crooner. “Gardenia” got Welcome to Sky Valley off to a hazy, throbbing start, while here it comes off almost as a tender ballad. Hey, if you’re going to take some legendary songs and upend them, you may as well go all in. The other two covers don’t deviate quite as much from the original. Aside from a short, odd string intro, “El Rodeo” plays it fairly true to form, complete with Mike Pygmie giving us the iconic bass lick, only clean. “Space Cadet” was already an acoustic number but Garcia flips the script here: on the original he croons, while here he’s singing it with his trademark sneer and the guitar playing is a bit more assertive. All told, it’s four entertaining variations on four classic cuts.
It’s been two and a half years since John Garcia released his first solo album, which Grymm astutely reviewed at the time. It had some top-notch songs on it, but was marred by inconsistency and questionable production choices. Both of those issues are gone here. Production is clean and authentic, with just enough reverb to liven up the mix, while the songs offer variety and, aside from the instrumental closing track (why include an instrumental song when you’re a singer?), all hold your attention. A DR score of 9 is acceptable for an acoustic record, with the guitar and sparse strings, bass, and percussion all mixed perfectly behind Garcia’s legendary voice, which thankfully is bereft of effects, unlike his last record.
The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues is a lot better than I was expecting. When I saw the promo I was expecting a tepid, mailed-in rendition of greatest hits, but what John Garcia and friends produced instead is an album with sweet alternative arrangements of Kyuss songs coupled with some new and rousing originals. This has quickly become my favorite unplugged album since Tesla’s Five Man Acoustical Jam. If you need some campfire music, you have to get this one.