1977-05-12 Circus Magazine

Review of Ghost Writer

Written by Robert Smith


Garland Jeffreys is a modern, idiomatic poet with an extraordinary ability to translate his poetry into rock & roll. His language is street sensitive: a rare blend of introspective soul and cool-edged observation. A vibrant performer and a veteran of the music-business wars, Jeffreys actually made his debut a few years ago on Atlantic, but many of the excellent songs on his first album were marred by a misplaced “folk” delivery. As Ghost Writer makes clear, this kid was born to rock & roll.


The new LP relies upon the collective effort of some of New York City’s leading session players, a handful of excellent Jamaican musicians, and several local friends. It’s a beautifully turned production with a laid-back, almost subdued quality that provides Jeffreys with a pliant vehicle for his numerous vocal styles and musical and ethnic influences.


There is stinging rock & roll that predates the art/punk convergence (“Rough and Ready”, “Wild in the Streets”); slipper, uptempo reggae (“Cool Down Boy”) and urbanized, cooled-down reggae (“I May Not Be Your Kind”, “Why-O”, “Ghost Writer”); autobiographical, New York mood-rock (“New York Skyline”); Spanish music; restless-night songs; and movie tunes (“35 Millimeter Dreams”).


Garland Jeffreys’ background is mixed and urban, a positive but potentially dangerous confluence of neighborhood, race, and life style – just the kind of combination that’s troublesome for a kid dealing with peers, but also a combination that can mature into a rich, cultural multiplicity. Jeffreys is a New York City kid with a white, black, and Puerto Rican heritage. He was educated in Brooklyn, moved to Manhattan, and made his name at Max’s Crazy City with the ultimate underground anthem, “Wild in the Streets”. That song captures more of the mad excitement of New York rock & roll than anything else available on record.


For a man who’s seen so much city life (terrifically good or terrifyingly bad), who’s written “these old stories now / For ’bout eighteen years or so,” Jeffreys is almost religiously optimistic and unfailingly positive. And that is what separates this album from so many others. There isn’t a shred of depression, despite the artist’s intense dedication to not glide by the hardest parts of living. Jeffreys refrains from cheap cynicism, deadly urban cliches, and easy summations. There is a constant plea to go on ahead and believe in the dream.


Almost every song deals with wanting something: love, truth, belonging, getting his story told. Jeffreys is a self-confessed New York son looking for that mythical and transcendent view of city lights from whatever depths fate has placed him.


This artist is analytical, self-critical, and not prone to exaggeration. There is a restraint to Ghost Writer unusual on records these days, when making a point sometimes means painting one’s shaved head and singing through mechanical devices which make the human voice sound like an emanation from some barely-tested 21st-century ground weapon. Garland Jeffreys is much too real for any such nonsense. His LP will grow on you. His art is deep but close, his simplicity deceptive. Ghost Writer is just about the best there is. It’s as simple as that.


Copy of this review graciously provided to Wild in the Streets by “New2You Music Movies and More” at http://stores.ebay.com/New2You-Music-Movies-and-More.  Thank you Gavin!


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