December 12, 2023

Now it’s just possible that some readers in the UK will not have come across Garret T. Willie. He hails from Kingcome Inlet on the coast of British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, and boasts first nations blood; in fact although this is a self-released album, it is endorsed by the Canada Council For The Arts as well as the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Still, his heroes range from the earliest rock’n’rollers – Elvis, Chuck Berry – to the usual litany of blues influences – Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Albert King – to basic metal rockers like AC/DC and George Thorogood. Now in his early twenties, the young country-blues singer, songwriter and guitarist has issued his first solo album, Same Pain, which aims to throw a cathartic light on the trauma and aggravation of his own life, and anyone else who has lived, I suppose, the same pain.

Photo by Heywood Yu

We are not told any of the specifics of that life, and indeed Same Pain is not a downbeat or morose album by any means. Garret T. plugs in, turns it up loud, and lets the music soothe his soul. The album opener, Make You Mine Tonight, which is also the lead single, is a rough and ready rocking blues with a distinct tang of Jeff Healey in its heavy opening guitar riff and thick vocals. He changes to a slower, heavily overdriven rhythm at two minutes, and then plays out the last 30 seconds on a solo which chugs to a halt on a deliberately unresolved chord – give it a listen at the foot of this page.

Garret wears his influences on his sleeve on track 2, the rocking shuffle Love Hangover, with the short, sharp vocal echo emulating Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and single-strum chords that recall Link Wray. He turns up the guitar at the end until it screams in feedback pain, not so much playing it as wringing its neck, to great effect – but then the title track changes tack completely, a slow, bluesy minor-key lament with clear-toned guitars. Garret drops his voice to a deep, mournful baritone in the Johnny Cash style, the emotional desperation backed by a subtle blues harp.

What It Means To Me starts off somewhat more brightly, with double-tracked acoustic guitars playing melodic, open chords that seem to swing around the stereo pan, but overlaid with mournful vocals in the vein of Richard Hawley – then we’re back to Dr. Feelgood-style pub rock with the upbeat Rolled. The George Thorogood influence comes out clearly with the tongue-in-cheek rockabilly shuffle Black Shiny Shoes, which suddenly morphs into a manic rocker with rapid-fire bongo-style drums, before a crash ending.

And so it goes; every song owes something to blues and pub rock, but drifting in and out of various styles for the album’s length, which is just over 36 minutes. The last two numbers though, are a caution-to-the-wind double-barrelled rock thrash, with the fuzz turned up hard for the raucous, Elmore James-style slide number Good Time Woman, followed by the similarly rowdy Front Street Blues. These final salvos of out-and-out rocking blues are the highlight of the set for me, for as much as I appreciate Garret scrolling through his genre repertoire, he seems to say it best when he turns it up to 11 and lets it all hang out.

He appeared at the Nanaimo Blues Festival this year and is playing the blues festival circuit in British Columbia and across Canada, so we can expect his musical base to grow – but for now, check out this album and share the pain!