2011-06-15 My Daily Find

Garland Jeffreys, The King Of In Between, Luna Park Records

My Daily Find | Bill Bentley

There aren’t that many new releases which should be mandatory listening: music that inspires, thrills and, yes, educates the heart and the mind. Garland Jeffreys has always been an artist who stretches the common world into something more exciting, showing us different ways of seeing life. It started with his early band Grinder’s Switch (not the Southern outfit, but a New York City-based bunch), and then really hit high gear on Jeffrey’s Atlantic Records solo debut in 1971. Rarely has a first album been such an eye-opener. And, really, it may be the most New York City album ever recorded, right up there with his friends in the Velvet Underground. For the next fifteen years there was a fairly constant stream of provocative songs, from “Ghostwriter” to “Modern Lovers” to “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat” and beyond. Then things slowed down considerably.

The King Of In Between is the first new music in years, but takes things right back to the top. Musically, this is rock & roll that blends influences so naturally it sounds seamless. Maybe that’s because Garland Jeffreys’ ability to become one with the listener is a shaman’s gift. It’s as if he’s singing these songs in our ear and there is no distance between us. That is a rare, rare gift and one the man possesses almost alone. Because he’s never been a real star, Jeffreys can still define himself as he wishes, and use that mystery to keep from being pigeonholed. Producer Larry Campbell has molded a group sound to rival the great studio bands of the past, even though he uses various players moving from rock to reggae and back. They never blink; everyone nails it every time.

The multi-racial New Yorker knows life is tilting towards the outer edge, and also sounds like he realizes the cold eyes of mortality are turning his way. Jeffreys never flinched before, and doesn’t start now. “Coney Island Winter” starts the album off with the jolt of the subway, and signals serious business is at hand. There is a rush of emotion in every song, whether about close brushes with the beyond or the ecstasy of rhythm & blues. Garland gets it all. Doubters are directed to “The Contortionist,” easily the best Stones’ beat since “Miss You,” complete with Lou Reed’s goosebumping “doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo” backing vocal. (L.R. phone home!) Even Bo Diddley’s singular sound gets a fine nod on “Love Is Not a Cliche.” No licks get missed anywhere on the album. Just so we’re left with shadowy hope, David Essex’s “Rock On” is added on as a bonus track. At least it sounds like hope at first. With Garland Jeffreys there is always more than meets the ear.

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