Garland Jeffreys either has a lot to be thankful for or a shit load to be bitter about. At 68-years-old, sometimes the years can blur your perspective on the experiences, making it difficult to delineate the two. He’s watched his college chum Lou Reed go on to become a cult figure in the art rock pantheon. He legally relinquished his first band’s moniker to another band shortly after their debut release on Vanguard Records. He’s collaborated with an enviable and diverse list of legends that includes Dr. John, James Taylor, Bernard Purdie, John Cale, and David “Fathead” Newman. In the 38 years since the dawn of his solo recording career, he’s issued a mere 10 studio albums – eight of which were stateside releases. Snagging major label deals with the likes of Atlantic, A&M, Epic, and RCA, most of his albums never ventured beyond the halfway mark of the Billboard 200. Rolling Stone named him 1977’s artist of the year. And for all his musical labor, he’s never been awarded a Grammy or a gold album plaque.
But still, there’s something to be said for a guy who still holds fast to the late 60s buck-the-system zeitgeist with lines like “Politicians, kiss my ass. Your promises, they break like glass.” After a 14-year hiatus from the U.S. market, Jeffreys releases the aptly titled The King Of In Between. Peddling pre-Giuliani NYC street noir chronicles and bluesy busker tales of woe and wisdom, Jeffreys’ latest offering finds him staunchly straddling the fence of his paradoxical status as a revered industry enigma and unsung underdog. The lyric above is taken from the anthemic opener “Coney Island Winter,” which plays like an impassioned would-be closing theme from the cult film The Warriors that got left on the cutting room floor. On “Til’ John Lee Hooker Calls Me,” Jeffreys laments the personal effects and honors the contributions of the kings of music’s bygone era over a whiskey-worn Chicago blues romp.
Replete with melodramatic string accents and a relentless backbeat, “Streetwise” pulses along like a close cousin to Etta James’ 1974 funky dystopic tale “Out On The Street Again.” For those who may be a bit confused as to the lane he’s traveling in, Jeffreys spells it out loud and clear on “Love Is Not A Cliché” with the opening lyric “I like my folk, I like my jazz, I like my R&B/ I love my rock & roll with a dash of soul and a funky beat/ I like a message in my sound…” Helmed by Jeffreys and longtime Bob Dylan co-conspirator and Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell, The King Of In Between is a solid exhibition of Jeffreys’ troubadour style in fine form. While the album doesn’t contain the sort of firepower evidenced in his 1980 smash “Matador” or the propulsive crowd favorite “Wild In The Streets,” it’s quite possible that this commendable set could garner Jeffreys his first Grammy – or at the very least his first nomination. Whatever the case, it’s apparent that the venerable Jeffreys is quite comfortable sitting atop his throne of between.
– Rico a.k.a. Superbizzee