Texas maverick David (that’s Dah-VEED to you, pawdnuh) Garza may have flown under the radar throughout his 15-year career, but it hasn’t stopped him from traveling full-speed ahead the entire time. Writing songs and laying them down on whatever medium happened to be at hand—and doing so with the obsessiveness of a diarist—the gifted musician has accumulated a small mountain of mostly lo-fi recordings over the years, all the while approaching his circumstantial limitations (no money, crappy gear) as the basis for his aesthetic. A stylistic chameleon, Garza goes through genres like an obsessive/compulsive goes through underwear, and this unwillingness to narrow his focus—combined with the state of perpetual motion he maintains—makes him a particularly elusive artist.
Perhaps in an attempt to present a coherent picture of his sprawling, low-budget oeuvre, Garza has assembled (yikes) a four-CD plus DVD box set spanning the years 1989-2004, its 71 tracks drawn from obscure collections bearing such titles as Conmingo, Summer Songs 5, Amorea and 1000 Copies (some of which existed only as limited-run cassettes to be sold at gigs), along with dozens of unreleased songs, the bulk of them recorded independently under less than state-of-the-art circumstances. All that’s missing from this mid-career retrospective is a morsel from the pair of “real” albums Garza recorded for Lava/Atlantic during the three years he spent impersonating a major-label artist. I have no idea whether the omission of this material was by his own choice or the result of Atlantic’s unwillingness to grant him the right to reissue but, either way, I suspect it would’ve been a real challenge to find some common ground between, say, the monumental rocker “God’s Hands” from 2001’s Overdub and this parade of handmade miniatures.
The set opens with “Black Music,” an unreleased piece cut in 2003 that sounds like an outtake from Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets. Next comes “Kickit,” also from last year, a primitive drum-machine thumper featuring the self-defining boast, “Ahead of my time / Behind the beat.” Then “What Do I Know,” a greasy slab of falsetto funk recorded eight years ago in Philadelphia. Two tracks later comes the T. Rex-sounding rocker “Stylee” (2000), for which Garza’s Bolanesque helium tenor seems perfectly suited. The same could be said of “Theme” (1999), on which he convincingly masquerades as Black Album-period Prince. So far, so good. But midway into the second disc—which opens with 2002’s “Foul Jasmine,” a “Solisbury Hill”-like jangler—things quiet down considerably. There’s a lot of slow-tempo solo stuff, some of it plaintive, some of it artsy and much of it just taking up space. It goes on … and on … from there before briefly picking up on the first half of the final disc, thanks to the gorgeous “Never Still” (1992), the witty “Cannibal Club” (2003) and the wistful “Jezebel Grin” (1993).
While I’m impressed by Garza’s talent, resourcefulness and versatility, his self-editing skills leave something to be desired and—after putting in all this listening time—I still don’t have a clear picture of his sensibility. I’ll take a single disc of material culled from these 71 candidates, but quite frankly, this is a lot more four-track Dahveed than I need.