First Reactions to Reinaldo Garcia's mercy, most High:
Liner Notes by Ronald PeetAn advance copy of Reinaldo Garcia's mercy, most High arrived via courier today. I mixed myself a special old fashioned (brown sugar, Angostura bitters, a tsunami of bourbon, six maraschino cherries, ice), trundled up to the spartan studio atop my property, slipped the disc into the player, strapped on the headphones, lay down on my cot, adjusted the volume, and sipped elixir as the organ faded in, joined soon by an acoustic guitar, and COMING INTO CUERNAVACA danced into view. Cuernavaca, Mexico's City of Eternal Spring, where in 1989 the bruja predicted Reinaldo would meet his wife, Alma Sandra Castro. Thirteen Christmases later, Reinaldo and his family found themselves in Alma Sandra's hometown, under the volcano Popocatepetl, celebrating the wedding of Alma Sandra's sister. Garcia here uses Cuernavaca as did writer Malcolm Lowry, making it a metaphor of the world: Careful, says the song, we're descending into a dangerous, mile high, flowered plain where "feral dogs snarl and bite / a human carcass in a ditch / [where there are] no dogs here to eat the rich."
And what goes on in Reinaldo World? In DOWN IN THE COTTONWOOD, a clueless old man still cries about a crime he committed decades earlier. Then a SINGING RIVER GOD supplies renewal, when the singer steals the river god's heart. But there's a sniper in THE ROOM ACROSS THE LAKE, sent to snuff a scheming woman who married a Mexican mujeriego who, having gained a foothold in America, now wants her dead. (According to Reinaldo, the National Writers Union used this song as "evidence" of his "toxic misogyny" when they put him on trial after he uncovered corruption in the union's hierarchy, and a co-conspirator was found hanging by his neck from a fire sprinkler pipe in his university office.)
American death revisits the poor mojados of GOLD IN EL NORTE, a narrative written by David MacKechnie and Tony Hanson, and set to music by Reinaldo at MacKechnie's request. Grim stuff, yes? And I'm already halfway through my anodyne old fashioned. Next up is GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT, a title stolen from Jean Rhys' 1939 novel of romantic despair. Reinaldo seems on intimate terms with Death and its cohorts. But there's still more. Continuing with the watery motifs which irrigate his sonic landscape, Reinaldo finds himself on a hijacked schooner, lost in a gale, thrown up on an island, cavorting with demons in THE DEVIL'S REALM. The song ends with an inverted crucifixion, which leads us to the wistful summing up of WE ONLY WANTED TO BE WANTED (WE NEVER WANTED TO BE HAD).
We're halfway through the odyssey (while I'm savoring my fourth cherry), and I'm looking for some light. FALLING INTO GOD arrives, all aglow like a fire on yonder misty mountain. Then RADICAL LOVE obliterates me, preparing me for THIS OLD HOUSE, written when Reinaldo and Alma Sandra emigrated to the United States and rented their first American house after a homeless stretch that saw them caretaking a snowbound wilderness pack station right out of THE SHINING.
Their daughter Victoria was born in 1997, and Reinaldo celebrates his peripatetic little girl with the organ-driven NOT TONIGHT, VICTORIA before regaling us with his redemptive THE CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE, the title of which he stole from novelist Anne Tyler's SAINT MAYBE. The waltzing valedictory, A MAN WHO LIVED, sums up the singer's life, and would end the CD were it not for Reinaldo's notorious perversity. ANOTHER SIGN OF MY CONTEMPT tells us he's not dead yet. Not even reconciled.
Sucking my last cherry, I drift off as a late winter rain spatters the picture window of my cabin overlooking Monterey Bay. Thunder shatters a pastoral dream (wildflowers, sun, singing river), and I shuffle over to my writing desk to compose a short congratulatory note to my longtime pal: "Got your CD. This the best you can do?"
[Ronald Peet, a longtime music and film critic, currently serves as managing editor for AU COURANT Magazine.]