Review of Mardi Garcia’s Wild Horse Ranch

What exact ingredients go into the making of a great song? I have spent my entire adult life (and a good chunk of my adolescence) pondering this exact question. Suffice it to say, I’ve yet to find the magic formula, but I have been able to narrow down a handful of elements that separate the best from the rest. A good songwriter sings of faraway lands using ornate imagery in an attempt to draw a picture for the listener, spoon-feeding them any particulars necessary to flesh out said land. The great songwriter stealthily transports the listener to that distant place, as if beyond their will, if only for three or four minutes, leaving them with a sense of familiarity as if they’d been there a thousand times. And one such great writer, New England native Mardi Garcia, accomplishes such feats, and quite a few more, on her latest CD release .

In a review I wrote for Motif on Mardi Garcia six years back, I observed at the time that “her varied songwriting fodder is made up from nothing short of a geographical potpourri.” And clearly this new release only reinforces that fact, with a collection of songs reflecting personal adventures that traverse the globe from Tucson, Arizona to Dallas, Texas, all the way to Madrid, Spain and inevitably back home to Providence.

The album’s title track is a fine example of Garcia’s travelogue, detailing her days at a Tucson ranch, purportedly built on hallowed Indian burial ground: “Saguaros fat and the juniper is twisted and red the rocks piled high. The men in chains their future is a mystery, while their sentence draws nigh. And it belongs to the ghost of the past.” The song’s refrain, both catchy and poignant, expresses her intractability when being called back home by worried family members: “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to give in, I’m stubborn like that now. And I don’t wanna’ fight, you wont find me going very far.”

Wild Horse Ranch is generally Mardi Garcia earnestly strumming along to her clean vocals, supported by a more-than-competent backing band. The combo’s strengths are on full display on the track “24 Hours In The Dark.” Inspired by a newspaper report about a controversial addiction-kicking therapeutic technique, Garcia shows a playfulness with the narrative while taking the role of the patient: Twenty-four hours in the dark and I’m a little nervous. Should I take my clothes off? No lights no sound, just the pounding in my mind. Don’t know why I did this, maybe I should sleep. You’ll get used to it, it’s only 24 hours.” 

Perhaps the darkest song on the album, “It Happened Again,” details the singer’s emotional dealings with a stalker: “Did it ever occur to you that no means no, when I tell you please let me go? You crossed that line way too many times. Broke my comfort zone and shattered my mind.” Garcia doesn’t simply take on the role of a victim, but delves deeper to further examine her own culpability: “I have this knack you know for finding your kind… It happened again, I let you in, it happened again.”

Mardi Garci is a folk singer in the truest sense of the genre. She tells personal stories about real places and genuine situations. The music itself is straightforward by design, thus leaving ample room for Garcia to unfold her vision, culled from a wealth of experience out of a lifetime fully lived.

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