Touching on country, soul, and Americana, Sean Patrick Garvey’s Obsidian Son delivers songs that lift themselves from the speakers and slow dance gracefully across the room. Deft accompaniment and flourish is wrapped around a core of compelling, immediately engaging melodies, giving the music a timeless resonance. “With the way life moves these days, my time with the muse can be short. I’ll write anywhere a song presents itself to me,” explains Garvey. “In that moment I like the strings to buzz and cracks to show. Usually the best bones are exposed when things are cooked down and distilled. You can always build from there.”
There was a time when Garvey had put his guitar down and started working on making a living. The son of a grape grower and winemaker, Garvey grew up in the vineyards of Northern California. Although the feverish rhythm of agriculture was in his blood, it was songwriting that consumed him. With a four-track tape machine in tow, he moved between New York City and San Francisco, writing and performing alongside artists such as Billy Bragg, Langhorne Slim, Chuck Prophet, and Kevin Gordon.
Surviving as a songwriter is not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is farming. There is something inherently uncomfortable about depending on weather and nature for your livelihood. Yet Garvey spent his life watching his father unearth wonder through sustainable methods and advocacy for the rights of farm workers. Wendell Berry says it best, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.”
When Garvey’s dad needed help farming their family ranch it felt natural to return home. The career change became a sea change for Garvey’s music; he reconnected with the black soil of his youth, the shards of unearthed obsidian, the lives of laborers and stories from the field. Writing whenever he had a none-to- frequent spare moment, the seeds for Obsidian Son were sewn. “I kept my son’s little guitar in the truck and I’d just pull over if I had a melody in my head. One night the frost alarm went off early and by 2AM we had turned on all the wind machines to keep the vines from freezing. I got back in my truck and by the time the sun came up I had written “Drifting.”
While much of Garvey’s work draws on man’s connection to nature, many of the songs on Obsidian Son are deeply personal. “Genevieve” tells the story of Garvey’s grandparents raising eight children and still finding time to share a moment together in the serenity of their parked car. “My Baby’s Arms” was inspired by the birth of Sean and his wife Lindsay’s daughter, while “Black Mesa Boys” tells the story of Jimmy Santiago Baca, a Chicano poet who taught himself how to read and write while incarcerated as a young man.
Garvey headed to Wow and Flutter and his good friend and gifted producer Joe McMahon (Mike Farris, The McCrary Sisters) in East Nashville to record Obsidian Son. Bassist Adam Bednarik and drummer Jon Radford (both Justin Townes Earle) and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Norris (Lambchop) round out the players. “We would spend the early hours of each day in the studio just listening to records, everything from D’Angelo to George Jones to Professor Long Hair” says Garvey. “We wouldn’t pick up an instrument until it felt right and then we would go to work. Joe’s studio sits right on the train tracks and the occasional train whistle can bleed through a take. “
After a week in the studio Garvey had to return to Napa to work the harvest.
Obsidian Son is a collection of stories inspired by years living in a rural farming community. It represents both sides of the street, the neon hustle of a pay day night and a summer wind through Spanish moss. “Growing up I would put a record on and lay on the floor for hours, just getting lost. It was a ritual” relates Garvey. “My hope is this record allows people to unplug and find something to connect to. If it happens to give someone the chills, then it’s working.”