It’s Time for Tea, Boris Garcia

Article Contributed by Dennis McNally | Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2023

From junior high school on, Jeff Otto had a guitar in his hand and a gig to go to, everything from power trios to cover bar bands to coffee house solo gigs and “anything in between.”  But when his first child was born, he stopped gigging and made up for it with a weekly jam session that began to yield songs.  “We were doing some gypsy music, an improvisational mixture of stuff.  It was really east meets west.  Boris sounded east and Garcia west and so we chose the name Boris Garcia.”

By the fourth song, one of the jammers suggested a guy who played “(Jerry) Garcia-ish type guitar.”  In came Bob Stirner, whose band Living Earth was a popular and respected early Grateful Dead tribute band in the Philadelphia area.  He listened to the songs and said, “This is great.  I’m not leaving.” 

He had songs, too, and Boris became a songwriting partnership between Jeff and Bob, with a major musical influence from Bud Burroughs—as Jeff put it, “If Bud wasn’t there it wouldn’t be Boris Garcia.”  Bud’s mandolin and keyboards—and a universe of side instruments from Marxophone (a hammered zither) to harp—add enormously to the music; “Bud makes our songs go.” 

The album also benefited from the many contributions of their producer, Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone, Earth’s pedal steel player Mike Robinson, and drummer Dave Mattacks (once Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull).

From Boris Garcia’s Family Reunion through Mother’s Finest, Once More Into the Bliss, Today We Sail, Around Some Corner, and now It’s Time For Tea, Boris has grown ever more sophisticated as they fuse Celtic, Bluegrass, and improvisational rock to create acoustic-based, beautifully drawn song portraits that add up to an utterly distinctive sound.  Otto’s ukulele—after umpteen hand and wrist surgeries, he wanted a smaller instrument than a guitar—adds a particular luster to their tone.     

Boris Garcia

One of the interesting aspects of the partnership is that both practice an intuitive path.  “I believe it's as true for Bob as it is for me that songs come out 85 percent done, one shot, boom, there it is.  It's speaking in tongues, it is the muse is talking.  Then I will go back and tweak stuff.”

The new album:

“Tea Time” has a sound built on ukulele and synthesizer, with Jeff’s sweet-natured voice backed by lovely Beatle-esque harmonies (tea, right?).  Jeff describes his lyrics as “nonsensical,” but they’re also boldly impressionist – red boats and a blue guitar, “a sky filled with nuts and figs…and brie.”  A quiet reference to 4:20 at the end throws in at least one “tea” meaning to consider.

“Everybody Knows” is a big strong stack of power chords, a breakup song that faintly echoes early Springsteen.  “Well it’s not about the love we take, about the love we give./Yours is mine and mine is yours please come back home and say it ain’t so.” 

“Go Long” is driven by Bud’s synth licks—Jeff thinks Bud had an “ELP thing going”—but its heart might very well lie in the mirror, in Alice’s Wonderland.  It started being about a “sweet football game,” Jeff says, but then he calls for Baby to go long, “you said you want to see the other side / The other side where the other ones live.”   

In “Wasted,” Bob reflects on disillusionment and the end of relationships, ranging from the romantic to the political, that “nobody is pulling the wool over my eyes, and you can go fuck yourself, basically”—although as a song it’s a lot prettier. 

Bob’s “Breathe” unites memories of George Floyd with a lovely, beautifully picked  bluegrass tune and dreams of a happier time. 

“Love Me Only” is a flat-out love song from Bob to his wife Deb.  He says it’s “a really syrupy sad love song, and I’m really proud of it, I really am.” 

Jeff’s “It’s Time” is mysterious, and again Wonderland-ish, ““To fly among the dolphins on a magic carpet ride/Are you seeing things like Escher, living on the other side.”  Jeff doesn’t know what it’s about, but “it’s time to find the answer and the truth Its time to find the answer and the truth” gives us a hint.  It also rocks. 

And the entire package sounds gorgeous.

There are more songs, but that’s a good taste.  It’s Time for Tea is a very full package of complex, fascinating songs.  You can also dance to them.  The kids on Bandstand  would love this as much as persnickety critics.