Garcia Peoples with Dodging Dues have released five albums in five years. Many, maybe too many, you might say… On the other hand, what to expect from a Jam Band (sorry for the bad word) whose name (we don’t know if intentionally or not…) reminds us of Grateful Dead-like psychedelic whirlwinds, if not a bunch of songs useful at most to fill up the setlist for the next tour?

Appearances can be deceptive, though, and while the New Jersey band make no secret of the fact that they draw their primary inspiration from the softer psychedelia and “on the road” philosophy of the sixties-seventies, it would be a mistake to brand them as a simple neo-hippie revivalist band since they have many more arrows in their bow. The roots of Garcia Peoples lie in the paisley underground and in the indie and alternative sound of the 90s, and therefore, rather than with the self-referential circuit of the Deadheads and bands like Bob Weir and John Mayer’s Dead & Company, they should be associated with certain avant-psych explorers like Chris Forsyth and the Sunwatchers (artists with whom they have collaborated).

Chris Forsyth with Garcia Peoples - Dreaming in The Non-Dream, from "Peoples Motel Band" LP/DL

As we said at the beginning, the band stands out for generosity in the recording which is unusual for the present times, but which goes hand in hand with a certain solidity of work. Of course, the masterpiece is still missing, but the debut “Cosmic Cash” was a delight for lovers of the most guitar-driven sound of the sixties, while “Natural Facts” accentuated the links with the alternative sound of the 90s and the dual guitars of Television, while “One Step Behind” measured itself, satisfactorily, with the inevitable suite without getting lost in the maze of self-indulgence and adding avant-jazz touches to its recipe. Finally, “Nightcap at Wit’s End” in 2020 confirmed that Garcia Peoples’ prolificacy and quality go hand in hand and was perhaps the best album of the lot.

So here we are in 2022 and with ‘Dodging Dues’, an album that doesn’t change the game but it’s in continuity with previous records.
The album starts off great with “False Company”, with a riff that smells of folk-rock played with hard vehemence and a vocal perfectly reinforced by the vocal harmonies. The song also shows a certain image in the use of twin guitars with an instrumental interlude with two voices of clear folk inspiration (one would almost expect to see Swarbrick’s fiddle popping up instead of the electric guitars) and a coda in which the two soloists chase each other at breakneck speed. All in all, solid classicism for a piece that infiltrates your head. Lovers of psychedelic folk will be delighted by the suspended enchantment of “Cassandra”, which also features a fairy flute.

Sparkling arpeggios, liquid guitars, electric piano, and a filtered voice characterise the syncopated psychedelic ballad “Cold Dice”, which brings to mind Steve Gunn‘s early work. We find more or less the same ingredients in the following “Tough Freaks”, but in an anthemic sauce, with an epic and choral refrain decorated by arabesques of electric guitar. It’s a song that should sparkle in the live setting, leading the audience into a festive chorus of self-congratulation. The slow, vaguely bluesy pace of “Stray Cats” serves as a breeding ground for a brief but lysergic solo. The aggressive “Fill Your Cup” concludes the dances raising the tone: the attack of a double, saturated and distorted guitar takes us straight to the 60s California of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Country Joe & The Fish, with counter-tempos that punctuate a very effective refrain.

I’ve deliberately saved for last the inevitable long track, the one that, on an album of this kind, can often mark the difference between an interlocutory record and a memorable work. “Here we are”, which sounds like a proud affirmation of itself right from the title, does not betray the expectations. The song confirms the tendency to a slow pace that characterizes much of “Dodging Dues” and is based on a subtle vocal interpretation that culminates in an evocative and emotional chorus, underlined by languid guitars and liquid flares of pedal steel. After the two verses, the song is ready to explode into a guitar ride that perfectly marries the chorus of the initial part with the epicness of the electric overlays.
Mission accomplished, then, both for the key track and for the whole album, which confirms Garcia Peoples as the main heirs of the fabulous Californian psychedelic season; pupils capable, however, of not sounding like a cultural relic of the 60s.

 

Psychedelia lovers can only be happy to have in their hands such a generous and prolific band, able to bring back to the honour of the chronicles just that particular sound, in an age in which the only allowed revival seems to be the post-punk one or anyway markedly eighties…
Well, “freaks inside” like us don’t agree with it and we claim our space, waiting every year for Garcia Peoples’ album with the hope that sooner or later the definitive work will arrive. And if it doesn’t arrive, we will be happy anyway…