Garland Jeffreys employed a studio full of high-priced session musicians on his last album, 1978's One-Eyed Jack, but the disc failed to capitalize on the breakthrough represented by its predecessor, 1977's Ghost Writer, which had employed much the same group of players. A year-and-a-half later, on American Boy & Girl, Jeffreys is accompanied by his stage band, A&M Records apparently cutting the recording budget or finally realizing that it's Jeffreys' songs more than his musicians that matter. This collection is a good representation of his street poet persona, in which he sings feelingly of the challenges faced by lower class urban youth in their struggle to escape their upbringing. "City Kids" puts the matter in stark terms, the lyrics a first-person account from one of the "Delinquents and reprieves/Orphans and the City Kids" who survive on the street committing crimes "for a thrill" and, as Jeffreys repeats 12 times in a mid-song mantra, "Shootin' dope." "American Boy & Girl," which follows, finds the singer describing two young people, again challenged by drugs and desperation, but hoping that "a little inspiration" will save them and pleading in the chorus, "don't you let me down." Clearly, the songwriter sees himself as one who managed to save himself from similar circumstances, and he devotes songs like "Livin' for Me," "Ship of Fools," and "If Mao Could See Me Now" to declarations of self-worth and accomplishment. "I'm not livin' for you, baby," he sings in the first of them, "I'm livin' for me," and in the second adds, "Some folks say that I'm here for them/That I'm here for you/But I'm here for me/And that's true." While such statements may sound selfish or arrogant out of context, Jeffreys makes clear that it is the narrator's ability to assert his own worth that separates him from the fate of the criminal and addict that might have awaited him. Unlike some who have romanticized street life, Jeffreys faces it unsentimentally, but he also addresses it with an expressive tenor and a set of rock & roll and reggae tunes that make the message go down easier.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann