Saturday, June 09, 2018

Escape Artist (1981)

Only when I started to look into it did I realize how remarkably prolific Garland Jeffreys has been. Escape Artist was his sixth album, and even with some long breaks from music along the way he's up to 15 now (the latest came out just last year, 14 Steps to Harlem, but I must confess I don't know it). Even if he is a WWII baby born to the golden era of rock star as album artist, it still seems like a lot of albums. More power to him! His biggest hit by chart performance topped out at #66 and is found on this album. But it's one of the few uninteresting things here, a cover of "96 Tears" that plays too much like the idea is to muscle up the Farfisa organ with electric guitar. But if I don't share Jeffreys's understanding of the song I think I share his appreciation. And certainly I appreciate his overriding sensibility, which is more or less a pop music standard, one heart cautiously in search of love but fully aware how life crosses us all up. Further complicated and enriched by a mixed heritage of Puerto Rican and African American. Jeffreys feels plenty comfortable reaching for fragments from reggae and dub strains, straight-up soul, new wave ditties, and the good old torch song too. He growls and broods and then his songs explode. Guitar. Power on. Escape Artist lives inside its skin so easily maybe that's the reason I think of it a little like a friend. The cover song and year of release locate it within precincts of new wave—shades of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, the Pretenders, the English Beat, and others are obvious enough here. Jeffreys is also a New Yorker (Bronx native now living in Brooklyn) so he shares certain affinities with Dion DiMucci, Felix Cavaliere, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and others too. The songs here find grooves, open up spaces for surging harmonies, electric guitar solos, and hooky little stunts, carrying on with the reckless abandon of cool inspired studio production and good songwriting, nearly all of it by Jeffreys. I think it's the openheartedness that wins me over most, still so fresh and vital. It would have fit on the soundtrack of the meteoric Vinyl TV show of a few years ago. It puts its heart on its sleeve and works out the soul and somehow it goes and keeps going on sheer nerve. The original album came with a 7" single that had four more songs, including a live version of "Christine," for a total of 14 tracks. I'm not sure why nothing else by Jeffreys has reached me quite the way Escape Artist has. It's the one that I love.

1 comment:

  1. Ghost Writer must be mine, I guess, since it's the only record of his I have still. He's got that '70s NYC spanglish tang; add to your mix, Joe Bataan, Mink Deville, etc. For some reason the aging indie rock guy in Franzen's Freedom always reminded me of Jeffrey's.