I had the honor, and trust me after you see him you will know what I mean, of having seen Garland back in the Eighties in Detroit (CenterStage) and in New York (Irving Plaza). A cross between Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen in both his writing and performing, Garland Jeffreys is a giant in an industry which recognizes record sales as the true testament to greatness. I prefer to go back to the first album, Garland Jeffreys, released in 1973 on Atlantic Records. Every single cut is a gem, from Ballad of Me to She Didn't Lie. These songs and pretty much every one Garland has written since are masterpieces of prose, be they about love or life or injustice in America.
Raised in a Puerto Rican and African American family, Garland is truly "In Between." In the music industry for sure, since no one has known what to do with him. So, after 17 years finally a self released album of stories about life in New York and indeed his own mortality. Garland is not the first artist to explore such topics, as John Mellencamp did on his album of from 2009 titled LIFE DEATH LOVE AND FREEDOM, Garland at age 67 takes on the themes of life as he reflects on his so far. I can only hope he is far from finished.
The opening licks on Coney Island Winter and his Lou Reed-esque delivery set the tone for this epic journey through rock n roll, reggae, R&B, roots rock and doo wop. "Politician kiss my ass, your promises break like glass," epitomizes Garland's take on America's greatest problem. You are transported onto the Iron Horse as its 22 stops from Coney Island to Manhattan move you along on a brutally cold New York journey, although Garland keeps it hot. And it just keeps getting better with a crack band headed up by Larry Campbell, who assisted Garland in the production. I'm Alive is a flat out rocker that indeed praises his lust for life and relays just how excited he is to be making great music. " I'm Alive not Dead" screams Garland, just so the industry maybe pays attention? I think yes.
Streetwise shifts into that funk that is also part of the gumbo known as Lord Jeffreys. Lamenting his late father and his advise to Garland about being "streetwise" Garland turns to his own daughter Savannah ( a great singer songwriter at age 15) and wonders about her own ability to survive on the streets of NYC. The back beat and the chorus is vintage street funk and Garlands advise to the Secret Service guarding Obama is perfectly on point. The Contortionist could be mistaken for Mick Jagger doing his best imitation of Garland and Garland doing his best to emulate Miss You with the hooks. A bit reflective and surely introspective, it may be Garlands way of saying he has gone through the hoops in the business and come out whole, but surely twisted. "Almost like I didn't exist" puts it very succinctly how the industry has treated him in the past.
All Around the World is Garland's take on the criminals in the banking business and you could almost think that the I Threes are singing backup on this reggae tinged tale. "Nobody appears to be sincere" would seem to be the nicest thing that he has to say about the bankers until the chorus of "Don't you steal it" comes in and you realize the slap in the face is complete.
Till John Lee Hooker Calls Me is Garlands best ZZ Top song of all time. Confronting the demon of death, Garland does a shit kicking job of delaying his exit by the words " gonna wait till John Lee Hooker calls me." He is having way too much fun playing music and enjoying music to go anywhere any time soon. Love Is Not A Cliche is the rootsy bluesy take on Karma and how love is really not something to be taken lightly. Rock N Roll Music is his salute to the music that Garland grew up loving. Never let it be said that Garland is subtle, he loves Rock N Roll music, it is part of his DNA. "I only dream of days like this, so I'm doing pretty well." A man happy in his skin.
Years back, Garland was commissioned by Giorgio Armani to do a song for his new scent, Sexuality. The eponymous song was brilliant, and under appreciated. The Beautiful Truth harkens back to the melody and the great whispers which Garland throws in. From the wah wah guitar to the reggae bass he kills it.......again. In another shout out to New York on Roller Coaster Town, "I was born a thousand yards from the Cyclone", Garland expresses his love for one of the greatest cities in the world.
Cue the Slide Guitar and the Staples Singers, as Garland is "laughing at death, as God's finger points at me In God's Waiting Room" goes back again to all of our greatest fears. Garland takes a bluesy approach to the prospect as "he prepares myself for the next episode." A man who looks death in the face and figures he's born to die, so he might as well enjoy his time in the here and now in what he references as God's Waiting Room.
So how would you even come to bookend this brilliant album? No problem for Garland as he once again proves adept at
David Essex's classic Rock On. With a brilliant reggae backbeat, Garland's take on this song is chilling. This man can take any type of music he wants, put it into his blender of a head and out comes an instant classic Garland style. I have not stopped listening to this album since the day I bought it.
Now the real problem as I see it, has always been what is "Garland style.?" In my humble opinion it is an amalgamation of all of the great music we have grown up listening to synthesized into one brilliant album after another. One brilliant performance after another. This is the Best Album of 2011 so far. Hail Hail Rock N Roll. Garland Jeffreys is one of the kings of rock n roll. Period.