Garland Jeffreys, Jazz Cafe | reviews, news & interviews
Garland Jeffreys, Jazz Cafe
Garland Jeffreys, Jazz Cafe
Lou Reed is a fan, but the great American chronicler of urban tension remains an industry outcast
Garland Jeffreys, a 68-year old singer and songwriter, is not simply New York City’s best-kept secret but American’s music’s most consistently underrated and overlooked talent. Garland is a remarkable talent and his latest album, The King of In Between, is musical dynamite. Oddly, he has remained largely invisible in Britain for the past 40-plus years.
I first heard Jeffreys on Kiwi radio in 1977 when he had a minor, reggae hit called “Cool Down Boy”. The video showed a light-skinned black man who possessed a fine voice and a sensibility more New York than Kingston. Around the same time I read a Rolling Stone interview with Lou Reed by Mikal Gilmore where the journalist puts on The Sex Pistols in his car stereo and Reed dismisses Rotten and co as “sound and fury signifying nothing” then goes on to single out Garland Jeffreys as a musician who writes about urban tensions and being an outcast while managing to do it without hysteria yet making great music. I was intrigued and sought out Jeffreys’ 1977 album Ghost Writer that featured both “Cool Down Boy” and one of the songs Reed mentioned, “Wild in the Streets”.
Then and now I believe that Ghost Writer is one of the great American albums of recent decades: it’s the craft of the songs, the skill of the players and the beauty of the voice – Garland Jeffreys is as fine a singer as any you care to mention in popular music. Yet fame and fortune never came to Jeffreys and 2011’s The King of In Between album – magnificent as it is – is his first in 13 years.
Thus this rare UK concert found around 100 punters attending what was one of the performances of 2012. Not that Jeffreys, who is mixed race – race being a theme he often considers in songs – let any disappointment show. Leading a dynamic four-piece band he spent 100 minutes tearing through his back catalogue, testing out King of In Between’s strongest numbers (one of which, “Coney Island Winter”, is the best rock song I’ve heard in recent years), and enjoying singing other people’s songs (“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, “96 Tears”, “Waiting For the Man”).
Jeffreys is not simply a remarkable singer but a vocalist capable of singing rock, reggae and soul with equal grace – sometimes in the same song (he mentioned recording with Dennis Bovell and Linton Kwesi Johnson in London in the Eighties) – and it is surely this, his refusal to fit into a musical genre, that has denied him a wider audience. On “Spanish Town” – a song reflecting on the military coup in Chile – he sang an acoustic, Latin-flavoured song of almost exquisite beauty and pathos.
Speaking of pathos: a blind man in the audience shouted, “I love ya Garland even if I can’t see ya”. Jeffreys, suddenly realising the fan was sightless, leapt off the stage and embraced the man. He encored with “Wild in the Streets”. Lou Reed was right both times: this is one of the great songs about social unrest. And Garland Jeffreys is one of America’s most remarkable talents. He promised to return. Do not miss him if he does.
Listen to "Wild in the Streets"
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