Farmer Tan – Real old teenagers
“When I was in junior high, one of my teachers said to my parents, ‘I think your kid’s got the calling,'” says Johny Huber. “And I think they thought I was going to be a preacher or something. A couple years ago I looked back on that and I said, ‘You know, I do have a calling, I really do.'”
That calling didn’t turn out to be of the holy-roller variety, but it did eventually manifest itself in ways some might consider equally sanctified: as the singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist in a country-rock band. The band in question is Farmer Tan, a quintet hailing from the smog-infested San Gabriel Valley in Southern California.
“It’s a weird thing, because it transcends logic sometimes,” says Huber, a 38-year-old husband, father, working stiff and record label co-owner, visibly weakened from his CD-release party the night before. “There’s been points in my life where I would get physically ill if I wasn’t writing songs.”
But such illness serves its purpose, the proof being Farmer Tan’s self-titled debut, released on their own Foothill Recordings (a budding label that also includes the first release by $1000 Wedding and, soon, a Chris Gaffney reissue). Strummy and mildly bar-band-ish, the 11-song set travels roads previously paved by Gram Parsons, the Eagles and the Jayhawks, while adding its own singer-songwriterly tones to the journey.
Plaintive, thirtysomething themes abound: The R&B-grooved “Real Teenagers” wearily accepts adulthood, while the banjo-plucky “Day Job” does its best to defy it. In the latter, Huber sings, “Daddy never taught me how to write this song/We hardly ever spoke at all/Daddy was a working man/I’m just a man who works.” It’s indicative of his oft-penetrating wordplay.
Elsewhere, the disc — produced in part by Denny Bruce (John Hiatt, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Beat Farmers) and featuring drummer Don Heffington (Lone Justice, Peter Case) — finds Huber pondering the down-and-out (“Lottery Hotel”), the bitter (“Head Full Of Tears”), and, on the exquisitely unsettling shuffle “Hangin’ ‘Round The Airport”, some serious barfly loneliness.
Yet Farmer Tan — which also features the fine lead guitar colors of Brian Hall, keyboardist Wyman Reese, bassist John Sleeger and most recently, drummer Rick Campos — isn’t a downer band. There’s a playfulness to the proceedings, especially live, when this group of longtime friends displays a camaraderie as if they’re several beers into poker night.
Which is ultimately the driving force. “Lord knows playing until three in the morning and having to go and be on for somebody else for ten hours a day is tough,” he says. “It’s a matter of loving what you do. What else is gonna tear me away from my wife, my family and my responsibilities?”