There’s a good chance you’re not familiar with Flint, MI musician Regional Garland, even if you’ve heard his art in some form or another. His horns have been sampled by mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, and his sound — a wistful blend of brassy funk and high-pitched falsettos — has been imitated by fellow Flint native Mayer Hawthorne, who’s taken Garland’s soulful aesthetic to previously unreachable levels of commercialism. For whatever reason, Garland has remained relatively obscure, although his music fell in line with the compositions crafted by his peers in the 1970s. Perhaps he was overshadowed by the titanic Motown sound of his era. Or maybe he was just too stubborn for mass acclaim. "I'm hardheaded when it comes to following the rules of music,” Garland recently told MLive in an interview. “I always wanted to break theory.” That headstrong resolve became the benchmark for Garland’s decades-long career; for better or worse, he created on his own terms and garnered respect for it. Still, Garland’s Mixed Sugar band never ascended to the mainstream.
Released in late March, Garland’s Mixed Sugar compiles the band’s entire catalogue into one coherent set, complete with dusty grooves and maximized arrangements. Here, the album begins with his early work and moves efficiently through 17 years of Garland’s career, the sound carrying the textured, soul-drenched instrumentals that were so popular at the time. Pleading ballads and sappy narratives dominate much of the project (“Girl You Better Hurry,” “I Need Love,” and “I’m Sad We’ve Broke Up,” for instance). Elsewhere, the mood is dismissive: “I’m tired of you cheatin’ on me” goes a line from “Get On Down.” The same goes for “How Could You,” on which Garland bemoans the end of a relationship: “You left me, girl/How could you hurt me?” Garland fares better when he moves away from these all too familiar topics; against a backdrop of scant drum taps and blaring horns, the lead singer complains about the limits of age on “Fifteen Ain’t Young No More.”
On the surface, it seems Regional Garland is that name on the tip of the tongue: he’s heralded behind the scenes for his contributions to the Michigan music scene, but he’s largely unknown beyond the state. Overall, Mixed Sugar introduces Garland’s music to a new generation of music lovers, and reacquaints him with those who might have forgotten about his textured sound. Listening to this compilation, however, it’s difficult to discern if Garland imitated much of what was heard on the radio, or if those popular artists took from his catalog. Along with Hawthorne, Chicago’s Curtis Mayfield’s music carried that same piercing, energetic feel. Still, Mixed Sugar provides a decent sample of Garland and his talented band. “Sample” being the operative word. Pun, intended.
-Marcus J. Moore