US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The King of In Between

By Danny Duncan Collum | Print this pagePrint |
Garland Jeffreys (Luna Park Records, 2011)

OK, so the guy’s 68 years old, and it’s been about 15 years since his last record. And his sound is still anchored to a guitar-centered rock/reggae/soul amalgam he forged 37 years ago. “So?” as they would have said in Garland Jeffreys’ old Brooklyn neighborhood, “You wanna make something of it?”

The headmistress of my kids’ “Latin School” is fond of a quote sometimes attributed to G. K. Chesterton: “Latin is not dead; it is immortal.” Garland Jeffreys has that spirit. He is a rock ’n’ roll classicist. In his hands, a tradition forged from the Delta blues and topped by the street poetry of Lou Reed and the prophecy of Bob Marley attains its own immortality.

In the bluesy “Love is Not a Cliché,” Jeffreys sings, “I like a message in my sound/Tell everybody what’s going down.” And The King of In Between is very much a product of our Great Recession. In the opening track, “Coney Island Winter,” Jeffreys visits the ruined neighborhood of his birth and finds a metaphor both for the U.S. economy (“The jobs are gone, they came and went. All the money has been spent.”) and for his own encroaching finitude (“Don’t want to die on stage with a microphone in my hand.”).

But all the death and depression here is, as rock ’n’ roll theology requires, balanced with affirmations of earthly joy. In Jeffreys’ case these involve the street life of his native New York (“this rollercoaster town”), a long marriage (“boom, boom, boom, so many years we’ve been bride and groom”), and the bittersweet pleasure of watching his 15-year-old daughter become “Streetwise.”

I was drawn to this album by the positive buzz in the music press, but I was skeptical that a man so profoundly lost in the 1970s and nearing his own 70s could speak to our post-millennial condition. But in the end I was shocked. This is easily one of the five best, most moving, textured, and deep albums of guitar band rock I have heard in this century.