Sean Garvey
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Sean Garvey

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"The Nashville - Napa Connection"

The Nashville-Napa connection
Rootsy St. Helena songwriter performs at Flora Springs
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Register Correspondent

A lifelong love of poetry and music led Sean Garvey from the Napa Valley to New York and Nashville.

Now he’s home, with a new CD recorded in Nashville and an upcoming performance Feb. 28 at his family’s Flora Springs Winery on Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena.

Garvey’s “California Parable” is an album of original music inspired by some of America’s foremost singer-songwriters, including Hank Williams, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and poets like Philip Levine.

“I’ve been writing and playing music for as long as I can remember, and I’ve loved poetry for as long as I can remember,” said Garvey, who grew up in the grape-growing and winemaking world before leaving the Napa Valley to follow his musical ambitions.
“The lyrics are really important.”

Garvey’s recording debut came about by happenstance — or maybe it was meant to be:

“My (now-) wife and I went to Nashville,” he recalled, “and found ourselves in this little bar,” where a slide guitarist named Kevin Gordon was performing.

Captivated by Gordon’s sound, Garvey introduced himself and the two exchanged contact information.

“He ended up coming out and playing for our wedding,” Garvey said.

Gordon also became co-producer of “California Parable,” along with multi-instrumentalist Joe McMahan.

Garvey, Gordon and McMahan recorded the disc over a few muggy summer days last year, using a vintage 16-track tape machine at McMahan’s Wow and Flutter studio in east Nashville (the hipper side of the Cumberland River, according to Garvey — not the glitzy Music City side).

The album fleshes out Garvey’s spare lyrics and folky melodies with just the right amount of backing vocals and rhythm. Guest stars include steel guitarist Al Perkins, who played with the Flying Burrito Brothers and appeared on the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” LP.

“It was a great experience,” Garvey said of the recording sessions, which had to break for passing thunderstorms. “For me it was a dream.

“All the songs I played alone in my room: They got to come alive.”

“California Parable” is an auspicious debut, with steel guitar chords buoying Garvey’s pensive songs of survival in Northern California.

New-century Westerners, at odds with past and future alike, stalk through his lyrics with their collars pulled up and their hats tugged down: “Keep the hurt and your chin tucked,” Garvey admonishes in “Youngblood,” with the chorus “We’re gonna shake and ache all night long” sounding almost like a lullaby.

The title song blends a haunting melody with stark images of whitewashed motels and a neon Jesus “shining down like the barrel of a gun.” In “Small Town Graffiti,” the protagonist thinks about freeing himself from the creeping blight of his declining neighborhood – but will he?

Brighter moments surface in “Layback Woman,” with its sunny accordion and lazy beat; but Garvey’s territory is more cracked earth and diesel oil than unmade bed.

In all, there are 10 songs on “California Parable,” and each one rewards repeated listening. Garvey’s homegrown take on the American Dream and its discontents is well worth your time if you enjoy rootsy, topical songwriting delivered without the distracting overproduction that spoils so many promising debuts.

Garvey’s Flora Springs concert will be an even more intimate affair, with McMahan standing in for the full studio band. McMahan will also perform with Garvey at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco and at a San Luis Obispo record store before returning to Nashville.

- The Napa Register


California Parable - 2008 new self released LP
recorded in east Nashville at Wow and Flutter with
Joe McMahan and Kevin Gordon




Sean Garvey’s music recalls an old radio sound of blues and country, capturing a lost world of a less homogenized America. His songs are iconic, full of characters both romantic and despairing, longing for what is real.   

Born into a grape growing and winemaking family, Sean grew up in Northern California where the soil was sacred, the seasons held answers, and the ability to tell a story was revered. “The kitchen table was our stage and on most nights Grandpa Jim told stories that ran like old time movies – riding the rails west out of the St. Paul train yard or sneaking into a run down YMCA in St. Louis to catch a glimpse of mighty Joe Louis.” 

The stories drew Sean to Hank Williams, early Sun Records, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt. Their songs inspired endless hours of playing into a bedroom closet, so as not to wake up the house. “As a self taught musician, it takes a little longer to get where I want to go. I write in the morning before work and again in the evening, cooking it down, distilling it, making careful cuts.” 

Sean worked summers in the fields surrounding his hometown. The Long days played out like a Philip Levine poem and the struggles of the migrant worker remain a major theme in his poetry and songwriting.  

released February 28, 2008

Coast to coast
I’ve been riding with the ghost
rest my bones
like a thief in the throes
Moonlight in the orchard
I’m dying on the vine
Mama said hold it tight
this dark heart of mine