Sue Garner is a picture of persistence and dedication to her muse. She has been making music for more than twenty years with a variety of players, bands and notables, enjoying the splendor and the spoils. In the early 80’s she started the short-lived yet revered arty new wave outfit Vietnam in a very fertile Athens, Georgia music scene. Shortly after Vietnam disbanded Sue choose to leave the red clay of Georgia for the black top of New York City, a place she still calls home. The laundry list of bands Sue would contribute to have helped to shape and define that cities musical landscape. Two of these groups, The Last Round Up and The Shams, (notable also for their all-female line up, including Amy Rigby) incorporated Southern and Country and Western melodies into their songs long before the term No Depression had been drawn up to reflect such styles. Her other two bands, Fish and Roses and Run On went a different way and drew more on the sounds and influence of Sue’s new home New York City. Each featured multiple songwriters and had more in common with Sonic Youth, Television and Alan Vega than they did George and Tammy. They were both started by Sue and husband Rick Brown. Throughout it all Sue never ceased writing and recording solo at home. Sometime around 1998 a tape of these recordings made its way to Thrill Jockey.
The self-titled homemade tape only hinted at the magic and charm that would become Sue’s first solo album, To Run More Smoothly. Upon the album’s release and Sue’s subsequent tour, writers and longtime fans took notice, many wondering why it had taken so long for her to step out in front? Two years later with Run On no longer a functioning unit, Sue and Rick recorded, Still, which was as heartfelt as it was atmospheric. If To Run More Smoothly was Sue alone in her bedroom with just her guitar and songs, Still was Sue in her kitchen with a few extra cooks and various seasonings, both equally engaging and different in many ways. The two records compliment one another like bookends with a variety of stories in between. When it came time for her next record instead of looking at the bookends, Sue looked at what was between them.
The origins of Shadyside began after crossing paths with poet Fay Hart, familiar to Sue was from the Shams days. Fay, a friend of former Sham Amanda Uprichard had penned one of Sue’s favorite Sham songs, "It’s Only Sorta 3 AM". Sue witnessed a poetry reading by Fay and became enamored with the lyrical nature and tempo of some of her poems. Sue felt they were ripe for being set to music and with Fay’s blessing recording commenced at Sue and Rick’s home studio (recently dubbed Mule Yard). With the direction of the record mapped out, things initially fell easily into place with Sue laying down basic tracks to a handful of Fay’s poems. Then for three days Sue and Rick ventured to Chicago where they recorded with Jim O’Rourke at his home studio, but over the next few months the idea of the record metamorphosed into a compilation of songs with lyrics written by several friends. Just as demos were completed and it was time to begin recording the world and particularly New York City changed. Except for two of the songs which were worked on at Jim’s, Shadyside was recorded and mixed entirely at Mule Yard, and grew into something more personal nature than a series of poems set to music.
Helping Sue realize her vision was noted producer JD Foster (Marc Ribot, Richard Buckner, Dwight Yoakam). During the recording process, Sue played most of the instruments and did all the vocals before asking some of her favorite musicians to be a part of Shadyside. She knew what instruments should round out the songs and in particular who she wanted to fill-in on certain tracks. Each musician played whatever they felt with a minimum amount of direction, letting a variety of musicians be a part of the creative process. The result was occasionally surprising, and always interesting. Alumnus of past Garner solo-efforts Doug Wieselman (Shudder to Think) appears on bass clarinet and bass harmonica and Rick Brown returns on drums, percussion and electronics. New to the fold was New York Jazz musician Ted Reichman who contributed accordion and piano to a number of tracks including an accordion solo on the track "These Old Walls", which Sue’s called her favorite moment of the record. A couple of world-reknowned musicians show up as well. James McNew of Yo La Tengo plays guitar or bass on a few tracks and Marc Ribot lent his talents to Shadyside with some guitar. Marc is a longtime associate of JD Foster and has played a range of artists including Elvis Costello and Tom Waits.
Sue's love of music as art shines through on every aspect of this album. Beyond the Hart/Garner collaborations which makes up four of the albums twelve tracks, Shadyside contains five new Sue compositions (one co-written with Rick Brown), along with an interpretation of a song by folk singer Michael Hurley, and collaborations with old friends Uprichard and Jonathan Thomas. Thomas is husband of Angel Dean, one-time Last Round Up bandmate and still sometime conspirator with Sue. The camaraderie that emerges between Sue and her collaborators helps balance the mixture of old and new ideas running throughout. Bringing to life in music the poetry of Fay Hart, calling on the inspiration of friends and heroes for lyrics and wrestling her own thoughts and emotions to the ground making Shadyside at once intimate and grand.
Shadyside out now!