Spencer the Gardener Releases Fiesta Album
by Matt Kettmann
For Santa Barbara’s party-hardy gringos, Fiesta means four things: tequila, beer, tacos, and Spencer the Gardener, the band that’s entertained the Old Spanish Day masses for the past 15 years with their trademark blend of quirky, original pop and rehashed Spanish-language favorites. This year, however, after their multiple shows during Fiesta — including their De la Guerra Plaza stage performance on Saturday night at 9 p.m. and the next day’s afternoon barbecue show at Red’s — you’ll actually be able to take the distinctive sounds of Spencer the Gardener home with you. That’s right, the band is releasing a full-length CD called, simply, Fiesta.
The 11-song album comes hot on the heels of Run Away with Lulu …, Spencer the Gardener’s 2005 release that’s been selling well around the country via cdbaby.com, amazon.com, and itunes.com. This new album, which was recorded at Garage Mahal with the help of Rob Taylor and Craig Costigan, features regulars Spencer Barnitz on vocals and guitar, Nate Birkey on trumpet, John Schnackenberg on sax, Cougar Estrada on drums, Gary Sangenitto on bass, Randy Madron on guitar, and Brett Larsen on accordion. It’s basically Fiesta in a bottle, containing such crowd favorites as “Rancho Grande,” “Guantanamera,” and “Juana la Cubana.” And Spanish isn’t the only language on the album either: Spencer the Gardener’s fan-fave rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” also makes an appearance.
“It’s definitely a Fiesta party album,” said Barnitz, although he did include a couple songs that fans haven’t heard before. So how’d this white boy from Santa Barbara learn to sing in Spanish? “I speak Spanish because I’m from California,” he said, adding that he learned some of the songs from high school, some from Costa Rica, and one from Puerto Rico. Whatever the origin, the result is genuinely Santa Barbaran and indistinguishably Spencer, whose cackle-y voice is as distinct as they come.
But it’s not only the sounds that are authentically Santa Barbaran — local painter Brad Nack, who did the Fiesta poster for this year’s event, contributed two of his pieces to make the CD jacket. It just doesn’t get any more Fiesta-riffic than this!