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Dark Tea - "Dark Tea" | Album Review


by Joel Parmer (@cup_of_joel)

Folk and country injected songs have a special place in my heart. Anymore, I find myself listening to such a wide range of music that it’s really decompressing to sit down and listen to something quiet and solemn sometimes. For me, Dark Tea fits this construct, but also extends into a folky offshoot; one that I’ve found myself wanting to constantly revisit.

Since the March release of Dark Tea’s self-titled album (via Fire Talk Records), I’ve grown increasingly fond of each of the ten songs. The more I listen, the more I’ve begun to notice little nuances in composition, instrumentation, and production/recording styles. While the record has a great sense of cohesiveness overall, a massive amount of collaboration took place at every stage of the record. Gary Canino is the mastermind behind Dark Tea, but twenty two people worked on the album in total. Among them, eight people had a hand in recording, mixing, producing, and mastering Dark Tea. Not to mention, a large handful of additional performances on an assortment of instruments (*see complete album credits below).

As far as album openers go, “Rolling Back The Dial” gets it absolutely right. The song shuffles along with steady acoustic guitar riffs that roll freely like the nostalgia one feels when billowing down a grassy hill. The tune immaculately introduces Canino’s rich, soft voice. A smooth, blues riddled guitar solo by Hand Habit’s Meg Duffy breaks up the song structure, perfectly catching the listener off guard. As the song presses on, violin and cello fill up any remaining space and begin to build the framework for what’s to come.

Shortly following a fadeout from the intro track, “Variable Rewind” hammers out acoustic-driven, orchestral pop inclinations. The violin parts in the song sway between tones nodding at slide guitar, to full on string section lead lines. Catchy guitar chords are nestled up next to a bouncy bassline, fluidly balanced drumming, and unwavering vocal performances.  

Yet another fadeout is answered by “Angel of Night”. This song is similar in composition to the previous track, however it begins to dissolve into freak folk territory. A grainy, angular video for “Angel of Night” adds to the moderately psychedelic vibe as Canino alone moves around many different places that are oddly captivating for what, or rather, where they are.

In perhaps the most country-tinged song on Dark Tea, “The Old Country Road Waltz” quite literally waltzes around a 3/4 time signature, slow-paced acoustic guitar turnarounds, and impressive pedal steel guitar playing. Afterwards, “No Notifications” drastically challenges the familiarity of a country/folk outlook for Dark Tea. The spacey song starts off with a bizarre, almost brass instrument sounding keyboard part spearheading the composition. Chorus and flanger ridden guitar accompanies Canino’s reliably sung melodies, as an emergence of backing vocals, glockenspiel, and spacious drums swirl around “No Notifications.”

“Inner Light” and “Lover’s Card” create a bit of congruency on Dark Tea’s self-titled release, but not without some charismatic nuances. A chugging bass riff is matched by a gritty guitar solo in “Inner Light” and howling vocals mesh with harmonica parts in “Lover’s Card”.

Rounding off Dark Tea, the last three songs on the album channel even more wonderment. “The Bird’s Nest” is like an Americana fever dream, with even more churning pedal steel parts. “Day's End” quickly encapsulates lo-fi mellotron parts amid a minimal song structure and trickling piano. “Remain As That Feeling In Time” seals the album shut and resonates as if it were the soundtrack to a meandering evening in which a person reflects upon a busy day.

Although Dark Tea has a lot of moving parts and a great deal of variety, the album fits together like a puzzle with no edges pieces. Canino sums up the collaborative nature of the release with the following words:

“The album features so many people because I would record a song or two at a time, with a different producer/different people playing on the track, hopefully while the songs were still fresh enough in my mind. I basically go through the songs with whoever I am recording with, and am very open to them playing whatever they want, occasionally with some suggestions or guidance. A lot of these people played in my live band in the past and already knew the songs. Having so many people gives room for spontaneity and gives each song a certain personality.”

Album Credits

Gary Canino - Songwriter, Main Vocals, Lyrics, Guitar, Harmonica, Glockenspiel
Mikey Young - Mastered All
Bono Melendrez - Mixed (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10) Produced/Recorded (7)
Loren Humphrey - Produced/Recorded/Drums (1, 2, 10)
Chuck Betz - Produced/Recorded/Mixed (3, 6)
Lucas Carpenter - Produced/Recorded/Mixed (4) Bass (1, 2)
Mike Kutchman - Produced/Recorded (5, 8)
Jason Quever - Produced/Recorded/Mixed (9)
Jarvis Taveniere - Mixed (5, 8)
Meg Duffy - Guitar Solo (1)
Jeremy Aaron - Violin/Cello (1, 2, 10)
Tristan Shepherd - Pedal Steel (5, 8)
Matt Popieluch - Piano, Mellotron, Vocals (9)
Harley Thompson - Bass (3, 6, 7)
Andrew Aylward - Bass (5, 8)
Ryan Naideau - Drums (3, 6)
Matthew Koons - Drums (5, 8)
Jeff Johnson - Drums (7)
Andrea Schiavelli - Piano (10)
May Sembera - Vocals (4)
Tyler Evans - Vocals (5)
Alexandra Savior - Vocals (9)