It all started with a red polyester suit. The western-style outfit belonged to Joe Garner's father Charlie, who played bass on the Grand Ole Opry for thirty years, famously backing 'doodle-doo-doo' star Del Reeves. After his dad passed, Joe went into the attic of his family home, looking for a keepsake. What he found was an alter ego and the beginning of a rich, cathartic ten-year musical journey that culminates with his latest release, Listen to the Blood.
“I thought, I'm going to put this old suit on and I'm going to be my own version of some of these country guys, like my dad and Del,” says Garner. “That's how the project began. I thought of the name The Kernal in terms of 'kerning,' as in getting the letters straight in a design. Aligning myself is kind of the idea behind the name. I obviously had the love of country music that I got from my dad. But there were definitely some loose ends in our relationship that weren't tied before he died. That part of it drove me to put myself into this world and try to iron out some demons. Listen to the Blood is the last of a three-album arc, which has been about me trying to prove myself worthy in some ways in a game that my dad had ostensibly mastered.”
With a storyteller's eye and sly sense of humor that echoes not only his “honorary uncle” Del Reeves, but Tom T. Hall and Roger Miller, Garner delves deep into everything from family dysfunction to road trips to matters of the heart. The music, which he describes with a laugh as “diet country,” embodies the spirit of that genre without any of the slavishness or self-seriousness of much modern Americana. Rolling Stone has called his style “sweetly subversive, intellectual and addictive,” while Lo-Down said “the songs have an air of nostalgia but they sound far from old - modern, yet timeless. ”
From the joyous, southern-fried grooves of “U Do U” and “Pistol in the Pillow” through the revved-up rockabilly stomp of “Green Green Sky” and the cinematic travelogue of “Wrong Turn to Tupelo” to “The Fight Song,” a sparkling '80s style duet with Caitlin Rose, it's a nine-song sequence that showcases Garner's warm, confidential voice while managing to make profound connections with the head, heart and feet.
“I think a lot of people can probably relate to the ideas I've been exploring,” Garner says. “Even if you come from a good family, you inherit these negative qualities that your parents hand down to you And then they die, and here you are, left dealing with them. I've enjoyed The Kernal project, because it reminds me of the good things in my family and the ways that I'm able to conquer some of the negative aspects. That part is sometimes hard to communicate, and I'm not even sure people are interested in that. Otherwise, the album can be appreciated in a pretty straightforward way - let's play some music and have a good time.”