Garland Jeffreys

Escape Artist

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Garland Jeffreys had been a favorite with critics since he released the brilliant "Wild in the Streets" as a single in 1973, but his albums had failed to reach a large audience, largely due to production and arrangements that often fell short of bringing out the tunefulness of his songs. But with 1981's Escape Artist, Jeffreys and producer Bob Clearmountain finally hit on the right combination; a set of tough, witty songs that dealt with the personal and the political, backed by an exceptional studio band that included members of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band and Graham Parker's Rumour. With Jeffreys' rock and reggae songs given a slight new wave sheen and a pulse that was strong but danceable, Escape Artist had a sound that was polished but full of life, and the many moods of the songs -- the edgy stutter of "True Confessions," the upbeat reggae of "Christine," the fist-pumping, anthemic "R.O.C.K.," and the wiry and streetwise "Mystery Kids" -- reflected the energy of Jeffreys' home town of New York, where a neighborhood could change completely when you turned a corner. Jeffreys also came up with one of his strongest sets of songs to date, melodically forceful while telling stories that were both passionate and mature, and his vocals were muscular and full of soul (Lou Reed and David Johansen guested on the sessions, but Jeffreys showed he could sing rings around them). The guitar-fueled cover of "96 Tears" pushed Escape Artist into the charts and made it Jeffreys' first real hit in the United States, but there isn't a single tune on this album that doesn't sound great and have something to say; with the possible exception of Ghost Writer, this is Garland Jeffreys' finest hour. [Most releases include the EP Escapades, which includes a reworked ballad version of "Christine" and two powerful reggae tracks recorded in London with producer Dennis Bovell, "Miami Beach" and "We the People."]

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