Garland Jeffreys

Ghost Writer

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Ghost Writer wasn't Garland Jeffreys' first album, but it was the first one where his signature lyrical voice made itself properly heard on vinyl, and where he seemed to fully embrace the stylistic eclecticism that would become one of the hallmarks of his work. On Ghost Writer, Jeffreys spins ten vivid tales of life on the New York streets, ranging from the cool literary philosophizing of the title cut to the teenage rage of "Wild in the Streets," encompassing the slinky reggae of "I May Not Be Your Kind," the sinewy Latin grooves of "Spanish Town," the cocky rock & roll of "Rough & Ready," the graceful sweet soul of "New York Skyline," and the edgy, urgent menace of "Lift Me Up." What holds it all together is Jeffreys' songwriting, keenly intelligent without seeming academic and reveling in the power of the word; here Jeffreys makes much of his multicultural background, which seems a natural reflection of the city that provides a backdrop for the stories, and Ghost Writer's musical shape shifting makes these songs sound like they're leaping from borough to borough without losing the "you talkin' to me?" big city swagger that informs them all. And Jeffreys can sing about the dilemma of race in an international city, political unrest in another land, unrequited love, the movies that give life to his dreams, and the books that nourish his soul while sounding wise, fully engaged, and like the coolest guy on the block all at once, with a voice that's sweet, sharp, and commanding. Ghost Writer is an album that covers a lot of ground in ten songs, but it never gets lost on its whirlwind ride around the city, and if it became a cult item rather than a mainstream success, anyone who gives this a fair hearing is likely to conclude it's the work of an artist of the first order, and Jeffreys' second masterpiece, Escape Artist, would attract the larger American audience he deserved.

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