Garland Jeffreys

Ghost Writer/One-Eyed Jack/American Boy & Girl

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Garland Jeffreys attended Syracuse University in the early 1960s alongside his friend and classmate Lou Reed, and while history does not record if they took a class in literate but street-smart songwriting, if they did, it's a sure bet they both aced the course. Just as much as Reed, Jeffreys is a poet of the New York streets, and his tales of life as a multi-ethnic man living on the rough and tumble side of Brooklyn are vivid, smart, passionate, and never afraid to show either force or compassion when needed. Jeffreys was also fusing his rock & roll with roots reggae before the Jamaican sound had broken through to a mass audience in the United States, and similarly, he wasn't afraid to also throw Latin grooves into the mix, but his eclectic sound and uncompromising lyrical stance proved to be a tough sell in the United States, and outside of 1981's Escape Artist, he's been far more popular in Europe than at home. Significantly, three of Jeffreys' key albums -- 1977's Ghost Writer, 1978's One-Eyed Jack, and 1979's American Boy & Girl -- are finally receiving their first release on CD in a two-disc package from the excellent Australian reissue label Raven Records rather than A&M Records, the U.S. outfit that released them back in the day. Ghost Writer wasn't Jeffreys first album, but it was the first where his unique mix of elements finally jelled properly, and while tales of street life dominate the set ("Spanish Town," "Cool Down Boy," and the instant classic "Wild in the Streets"), his celebration of living at the movies, "35 Millimeter Dreams," and the fervent lover's plea "Lift Me Up" show he had plenty on his mind. One-Eyed Jack was cut from similar cloth, with a greater emphasis on autobiographical themes, but didn't connect quite as strongly, though the slinky funk of "She Didn't Lie," the '50s-flavored "Reelin'" (featuring superb duet vocals from Phoebe Snow) and the moody title cut revealed a more varied approach than Ghost Writer, and the cover of "No Woman, No Cry" is superb. American Boy & Girl opted for a leaner approach than the previous album, and there was more bite in his stories of street kids caught in the urban jungle, especially the harrowing "City Kids" and the title song. However, the album also featured the stylized romance of "Matador," which became a major hit single in Europe, and the impressionistic philosophizing of the closing track "If Mao Could See Me Now." Raven's remastering of the three albums is excellent (though the spooky whisper of "Death to Amin!" has been trimmed from the end of American Boy & Girl), Ian McFarlane's liner notes are very good, and the packaging is handsome. Garland Jeffreys' catalog has long deserved better treatment, and this set gives three of his most important albums a well-deserved second life, and it comes highly recommended.

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