Here is yet another important recording artist who, despite making consistently good to great albums since the early 1970s, is virtually unknown to the masses. Yes, Garland Jeffreys is another one of those artists who remain puzzlingly “under the radar”, even after many years of recording magnificent music and garnering favorable reviews from critics.
During his long career, Garland Jeffreys has followed an intriguing variety of musical paths, veering from rock to reggae and from to blues and soul, distinguished by penetrating lyrics and tunes that are buttered with a slight coating of pop. Jeffreys is of mixed racial heritage and his music is also a smorgasbord of styles. Garland Jeffreys has been called an old school rocker, a musical mongrel, and an urban poet; all of which are apt descriptions of this dedicated and important musician. Toss in elements of Lou Reed, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, and even a dash of Phil Ochs, and that will give you a general idea of what he sounds like. But then again, nobody really sounds like Garland Jeffreys.
Jeffreys first came to the music world’s attention in 1973 with the provocative single “Wild in the Streets.” The music was catchy but the lyrics were what really struck most listeners:
In the heat of the summer
Better call up the plumber
and turn on the street pump
to cool me off
With your newspaper writers
and your big crime fighters
You still need a drug store
to cure my cough
Running wild in the streets …
Oddly, that song was not included on Garland Jeffreys, his debut album for Atlantic that was released the same year. “Wild in the Streets” never made it onto a Garland Jeffreys album until a version appeared on his debut for A&M in 1977, the excellent Ghost Writer, still considered by many to be his seminal album. Jeffreys followed that with two more solid albums before signing with Epic and releasing another incredible collection, Escape Artist, in 1981. That album featured powerful songs such as “True Confessions,” “Mystery Kids,” “Modern Lovers,” and “Christine,” along with a spirited cover of “96 Tears.” It featured a stellar cast of supporting musicians, including Adrian Belew, David Johansen, Lou Reed, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Big Youth, Nona Hendryx, Roy Bittan, Michael and Randy Brecker, and G.E. Smith. The 2007 CD reissue also includes seven bonus tracks, some of which were first heard on the bonus 45 record that come with the LP version of the album. Another album for Epic and he jumped labels again, releasing a couple of more fine albums for RCA that never set the charts on fire.
Fans that have waited over a decade for new music from Garland Jeffreys were rewarded recently. The newest Garland Jeffreys, The King of In Between, was released just a few months ago on his own label, Luna Park Records. No more having to appease record company executives and marketing departments, this time he’s doing it all his way. Predictably, the results are most impressive. Tunes such as “I’m Alive,” “Coney Island Winter,” and “The Beautiful Truth” highlight Jeffreys’ talent for penning memorable songs, punctuated by socially conscious lyrics that are both eloquent and poetic. And his shimmering, captivating voice still sounds strong and assured at age 68. The only misstep, to my ears, is the mediocre “Rock and Roll Music.” But with an album this strong, I’ll forgive Garland for that one little blip. I’m just glad that this man is still making vital music.