by Sandor Slomovits
Let's start by acknowledging the elephant in the coffeehouse. When you think of Canadian folk musician Garnet Rogers, who will be at the Ark on Sunday, September 14, you can't help thinking also of his brother, Stan. The older Rogers had already established a spectacular career as both performer and songwriter when he died in a plane fire in 1983. In the years since his death, Stan's influence and the sales of his recordings have continued to grow. Not easy to stand in the shadow of a man like that. But Garnet, who started playing in Stan's band when he was only eighteen years old, and produced and arranged his recordings for ten years, has always been a big enough man, figuratively and literally he's nearly six feet six and a talented enough musician to not be overshadowed by anyone. Today, after more than a dozen recordings and hundreds of thousands of touring miles all over North America (he doesn't fly, and he's driven more than a few Volvo station wagons into the ground), Garnet casts his own not inconsiderable light on the folk music scene.
He shines in many ways. Start with his resonant, relaxed baritone, by turns invigorating and lulling, always deeply expressive. Add to that the long list of instruments he plays, reading like the combined inventory of an orchestra, bluegrass group, and rock 'n' roll band. He can't fit all those into the back of his Volvo, so he performs with only a few guitars and a fiddle, but there are no limits on what he brings as a performer there is no finer interpreter of his brother's classic songs and as a songwriter.
Garnet's own songs cover a seemingly limitless range of topics, from stories of the ordinary people he's met in his travels to his responses to world affairs or well-known people. Witness "Junior," a scathing commentary on our current president (when he
sings "You don't
speak for me," he's not referring just to his own Canadian citizenship). "Beyond This Wall" is about Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan, and the rocker "Good and Faithful Servant" was inspired by the funeral service of Coretta Scott King. He's a keen observer and a master of the details that paint vivid pictures of his characters. And then there are songs like "The Painted Pony," rivaling the best of the old British Isles ballads in its perfect rendering of a love both earthly and supernatural. Or the rockabilly "Where Did You Get That Little Dress?" part erotic love song, part statement of values in which Garnet contrasts his lover's "sweetness in a cotton dress" with fashion trend setters: "Those sullen junkies on the runway . . . with their implants and injections, only God knows what is real."
God knows, Garnet Rogers is real.
[Review published September 2008]