It’s a simple approach to making music. No tricks. No frill. Just honest songs void of flash with zero studio enhancement or digital trickery. This is still THE approach to making music. For every teen pop star or major label con artist, there are thousands of in-the-trenches musicians who are navigating their way through an unpredictable business where the rules of success are being written song by song and show by show. This includes Garrett Lebeau, purveyor of the genre of “Super-soul.” It’s a style of slight tempo, hushed lyrics, and blues guitar that nods to early R&B and soul while weaving itself into the fabric of American roots music.
Lebeau and his band will return to Durango Wednesday (Jan. 25) with a performance at El Rancho. Along with Lebeau, who sings and plays guitar, the band is John Duran on drums, Ben Geise on bass, and Ryan Howard on keyboards.
The Austin-based musician, who made his way to Texas after growing up on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, doesn’t pigeonhole himself into a specific genre. He’s a fringe musician, toying with blues and soul yet disguised and delivered in a slight, electric folk package and mellow vibe.
The space between the notes is important. Knowing when to ease back on your instrument is as important as knowing when to lean in. It’s often what is left out that is appealing about a musician like Lebeau. Look at the jam-band world. There’s a presumed necessity of nonstop showmanship, a chest beating “look what I can do with my instrument” approach for every song that is all technique. It’s full-blown musical masturbation, a whole lot of sounds and musical tricks that’s void of any life, feeling and soul. When there’s no practice in personal restraint, the product is a whole lot of hype that at times is enjoyable ear candy, but with very little to sustain the fan.
Lebeau remains similar to musicians like Van Morrison or J.J. Cale, players that walk a line that dabbles in the genres that make up American roots music without shoving it down your throat.
“A lot of musicians just focus on their skills on their instrument, which leads to some pretty hollow music, I think, a lot of the time,” Lebeau said. “I wasn’t enjoying music when that was my goal. I was playing out and playing gigs but the music wasn’t feeding me because it was more about me showcasing my guitar skills. “The music I make now represents many years now of me moving away from that, and playing music for the sake of music. I still use my skills, but that’s not the point of the music.”
“All my favorite artists are somewhat subtle, and that’s the thing about a great artist is there’s some subtlety to what they’re doing. They’re not going to hit you upside the head. It’s me trying to become more nuanced, and write better tunes, and I think that is the normal trajectory of somebody who is serious about what they’re doing and really trying to get better.”
2016 was a busy year for Lebeau. He continues to write, record, and release. Those releases include a live recording from a performance in Durango from summer 2016.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.