Archive for the ‘Garland Jeffreys’ Category

The annual Old Grey Cat Awards fete, in which the Album of the Year nominees gather in the great hall that is our living room while anxiously awaiting the word, was more crowded this year than most. Were the Las Vegas oddsmakers correct? Or would an underdog be crowned king or queen? (Canines are much loved by the admittedly feline-centric OGC Committee, so it’s always a possibility.) By the time the gala’s host finally scampered onto the mantel to bellow the mews, well, the tension could’ve been cut with a claw.

Except, as often happens with this, the most ballyhooed of music awards, the many contenders could and should have saved their Xanax for another night. Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life was and is just one of those albums. And the runners-up…aside from the late entry from the sister collective known as the Staves, not surprising. (The winner and four runners-up can be seen here.)

But awards ceremonies never tell the full story of a year.

While sorting through the year’s top contenders for my Album of the Year honors, I was shocked – but not appalled – by the many great albums and EPs released in 2017. I thought I’d share my numbers 6 through 11 – aka, the Honorable Mentions – here. Some I reviewed during the course of the year; others, unsurprisingly, I didn’t. They’re all worth buying or, at the least, adding to one’s Apple Music or Spotify library.

6) Garland Jeffreys – 14 Steps to Harlem. “As a whole, 14 Steps to Harlem finds Garland looking back, surveying the present and contemplating the future – and doing it all to melodies that linger long after the music has ceased.” Here’s the title track:

7) Paul WellerA Kind Revolution. “Long Long Road” is such a tremendous song that, even if the rest of the album was just so-so, A Kind Revolution would be an honorable mention. But the album is among Weller’s best.

8) Tift MerrittStitch of the World. “While we listened to it earlier today, me for probably the 10th time this week, Diane noted that certain songs would’ve been at home on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel – or, I’d add, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. I.e., there’s a timelessness about them.” Here’s one of its stellar tracks,  “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb.”

9) Kasey ChambersDragonfly. “Ain’t No Little Girl” is just tremendous, bluesy and – in concert, especially – jaw-dropping in its intensity. The remainder of the double album is damn good, too.

And, two ties at No. 10…

10) Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (deluxe edition). “The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. ”

10) Natalie Merchant – Butterfly (available as part of The Natalie Merchant Collection). Here’s “Frozen Charlotte” from it…

Another night, another great show. Since March, when we saw the Staves, Diane and I have witnessed a string of magical concerts by favorites old and new. Some nights we’ve been the oldest folks in the room; others we’ve mingled with our middle-aged peers; and, at least once, I looked around and realized we were likely the youngest in attendance.

This night, Thursday June 8th, found us sitting with fellow travelers/longtime fans of Garland Jeffreys at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in West Philly; aka, a middle-aged crowd or, more to the point, our peers. It’s the smaller of the venue’s two rooms, and intimate as intimate gets.

Garland took to the stage to the propulsive beat of “Coney Island Winter,” one of many highlights from his 2011 album The King of In Between

It was the perfect start to a rockin’ hour-and-change set that mixed latter-day songs, including a wealth of tracks from his sterling 14 Steps to Harlem album, with such past classics as “Ghost Writer,” “35 Millimeter Dreams,” “96 Tears” and “R.O.C.K.”

Somewhere in there, I found myself drifting back to a show in New York in maybe 2002 or ‘03 at the Village Underground, Joe’s Pub or…? Whenever, wherever, Diane and I had made the long trek up the railways to see the Brooklyn-born bard on his home turf, and – as has been the case with each of the dozen times (give or take) we’ve seen him since – he more than exceeded expectations. That night, he rocked the packed house and then, afterwards, greeted fans and friends alike.

Understand that, at that point, he and Diane had bonded through an in-depth interview she’d done with him for the original Old Grey Cat website (which, now that I’ve located it, I plan to resurrect at some point). So when he saw Diane, as one might expect, he hugged her.

He also – totally unexpected – hugged me.

Now, I can count on one hand the number of men I’ve hugged. I’m of my father’s stock, in that regard; a handshake more than suffices. (I hasten to add, it’s a gender-equal disposition – other than my wife, mother and one or two others, a hug and/or kiss from a woman seems a tad touchy-feely to me. Juliana could well have written “Got No Idols” about me, in other words.)

Anyway, now 73, Garland’s still going strong, still writing songs that resonate with the soul – such as “Time and Again,” which he didn’t sing this night (but should have – even without his daughter’s beautiful voice, it would be powerful), or the title song to 14 Steps, which he linked with “Harlem Bound” from his 1973 solo debut.

And this night, as with that long-ago night, he hung out post-show to meet and greet his fans and friends. For my part, I attempted to circumvent the expected hug by asking for a photo instead – the first time for that.

It kinda-sorta worked.

 

Since the dawn of what I’ve decided to dub the fast-track century, aka the 21st, there have been a few constants in my life. Family? Of course. Feline? Check. Music? Well, duh! I listen as much now as ever – new artists and old favorites forever intermingle on the ever-evolving soundtrack of my life. Some new artists become old favorites in short order. And old favorites, though they may fade to the background for a spell, always resurface.

There’s just not enough time – not for music, and not for life. It “goes away as quick as a wink. Quicker than you think.” Those lines come from “Time Goes Away,” a meditative gem on this, Garland Jeffreys’ latest long-player. It’s a beautiful, plaintive tune buttressed by the addition of Garland’s 20-year-old daughter Savannah, who echoes her father’s simple yet profound words: “Time goes away/Till you don’t have many/Till you don’t have any.” (That young voice deserves an album of her own. Just sayin’.) It’s a topic Diane and I discuss often these days, actually: yesteryear often seems like yesterday to us. And our tomorrows…we both know there’s less of them to come.

As a whole, 14 Steps to Harlem finds Garland looking back, surveying the present and contemplating the future – and doing it all to melodies that linger long after the music has ceased. This morning, for instance, I woke with the title track in my head:

Other highlights include “When You Call My Name”…

…and “Venus.”

His cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man,” written by his old friend Lou Reed, is great to have on album. (It’s been a concert staple of his for the past good while.)

And “Luna Park Love Theme,” which features Lou’s wife Laurie Anderson on electric violin, is the perfect cap to a great outing.

(Here’s the AP’s review; and an excellent USA Today article on the album.)

img_0459And so it’s finally come to pass: the Tin Angel closed its door on Feb. 4th, a fate expected since the announcement of the building’s sale last fall. The plan, according to owner Donal McCory and booker Larry Goldfarb, is to re-open at a different (and larger) location by the end of the year.

Diane and I saw many shows at the intimate 115-seat venue through the years, from the early 1990s to last year. One memorable concert: Maria McKee in 1998. Another: Garland Jeffreys in 2001.

The Brooklyn-bred singer, songwriter and reggae-infused rock artiste has been making music since the 1960s, but most folks likely remember him from his remarkable run in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when he released a string of excellent albums, including Ghost Writer and Escape Artist, and was frequently heard (in Philly, at least) on AOR radio with such songs as “Wild in the Streets,” “Cool Down Boy,” “35 Millimeter Dreams,” “Matador” and his cover of “96 Tears.”

This Wikipedia entry goes in-depth into his career. If you read through it, you’ll know that he took a break from music for much (though not all) of the ‘90s; and then re-entered the music arena during the summer of 2001.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another salient point: Diane turned me from a radio fan to an actual fan. It was she who discovered he was playing this specific show, in fact, and convinced quite a few of our friends to attend it, too.

garlandtinangelAnyway, my memory of this show, which saw Garland accompanied only by longtime guitarist Alan Freedman, was that it was hypnotic. I don’t recall many of the specific songs performed, unfortunately, though I imagine they included the ones featured above. What blew my mind: an extended excerpt from a psychodrama-like musical play he was writing at the time, Spook House. The protagonist was named Bolden; and the extended scene, if I remember it correctly, involved Bolden and his departed mother. It was powerful, dramatic and spine-tingling.

I also remember this: a sterling rendition of “New York Skyline” closing the show. That was but a few months after 9/11, of course, and I’m sure my – and everyone’s – reaction to it was colored by the emotions of the time. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

In the years since, we’ve seen Garland more times than we can count. He’s released two excellent albums – The King of In Between (2011) and Truth Serum (2013) – and has now embarked on making a PledgeMusic-backed documentary and album.