2005-01-10 The Hollywood Reporter

McCabe’s, Santa Monica, ┬áJan. 8

Like fine vintage wine, Garland Jeffreys has aged well. The Brooklyn native, now 60, is a blend himself, with a black, white, Puerto Rican and American Indian background.

His musical vocabulary is wide too, encompassing early rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop, R&B and pop, with ample dollops of gospel and reggae as well.

Saturday’s show at McCabe’s in Santa Monica marked Jeffrey’s first Los Angeles appearance in well over 15 years. Dozens braved the inclement weather, and the guitar shop’s back room was close to full.

This was no aging artist doing a folkie thing. Accompanied by the vibrato flourishes and solos of his longtime crony, guitarist Alan Freedman, Jeffreys delivered a soulful and literate performance. Dressed in black and wearing a checkered fedora, he made a dramatic entrance at the rear of the room, singing a cappella while making his way to the stage.

Jeffreys strummed and plucked several acoustic guitars, putting them down at times to clutch the microphone and let loose with soul cries. The set was something of a career overview, reaching as far back as his debut solo album in 1973.

As a writer, Jeffreys captures jarring visual details and crafts cutting couplets. Race and themes of self-identity weigh heavily in many of his songs, including “Color Line,” about baseball’s Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, and the seething title track of his under-appreciated 1992 album “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat.”

The tale of “Spanish Town,” where Don Juan is revealed as a gringo, would work in any Robert Rodriguez film, while the epic song-and-spoken-word piece “Ghostwriter” found him stepping back into the audience.

Jeffreys is a New Yorker through and through, and his accent was prominent as he spoke between songs. Like one of his friends, Lou Reed, he embraces metropolitan magic, especially in a ballad like “New York Skyline,” which recalled the early ’60s romanticism of songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

A lengthy encore began with some blues numbers and a gentle reading of the blues chestnut “Corrina, Corrina.” Jeffreys then mined a reggae groove for his tune “Rebel Love,” followed by Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” He also covered Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.”

Jeffreys linked his only two true radio hits, 1977’s urban snapshot “Wild in the Streets” and his 1981 revival of the Mysterians nugget “96 Tears,” which included snippets of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for My Man” and Ernie K. Doe’s “Mother-in-Law” tossed in for good measure.

With the house lights up, he performed a cappella again, telling the audience he plans to release some new material this year and return to Los Angeles much sooner this time.

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