Truth Serum

Garland Jeffreys

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Truth Serum Review

by Mark Deming

Considering Garland Jeffreys managed to release a mere three albums between 1992 and 2011, the arrival of Truth Serum in 2013, just two years after The King of In Between, suggests the gifted New York songwriter and vocalist is suddenly becoming recklessly prolific, at least by his own standards. While most of Jeffreys' albums are constructed around some grand central theme, Truth Serum is one of his more introspective efforts, focusing on life's internal and external struggles: the temptations of alcohol and self-delusion ("Truth Serum," "It's What I Am"), the challenges of relationships ("Ship of Fools," "Colorblind Love"), the emotional pull of the family ("Collide the Generations"), and the never-ending desire for a better life ("Is This the Real World," "Revolution of the Mind"). And given the eclectic, genre-bending approach of his best and best-known work, Truth Serum is an unusually straightforward and tightly focused set: "Dragons to Slay" finds Jeffreys once again dipping his toes into reggae (and showing he's one of the few Americans who sounds consistently comfortable and convincing embracing Jamaican sounds), and "Collide the Generation" is a lean, edgy rocker, but most of this music is rooted firmly in the blues, with the arrangements simple and the band performing with unobtrusive confidence, particularly drummer Steve Jordan and keyboard man Brian Mitchell (though Larry Campbell, who produced The King of In Between, does lay in some raw and fiery blues riffs on several tracks). In many respects, Truth Serum is a different sort of Garland Jeffreys album; instead of reaching for a Major Statement, this album feels like a set of journal entries, meant as much for himself as his audience, though Jeffreys' distinct lyrical voice shines bright even when he's chanting his thoughts like a mantra, and his voice is warm, passionate, and a joy to hear more than four decades after he cut his first album. Considering he's nearly 70 years of age, perhaps it's better if we get more simple albums from Jeffreys than fewer large-scale conceptual works; the man clearly still has the skill and the inclination to make worthwhile music, and Truth Serum suggests he's smart enough not to squander this gift while time is still on his side.

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