14 Steps To Harlem
Luna Park Records
The only thing better than discovering a long-lost classic, new to you is finding out that the musician responsible for it, and other great recordings, is still going, still releasing fresh, vital music. A year or so ago Garland Jeffreys was just a name I’d heard, hadn’t really investigated. Finding one of his best records in my collection was the only impetus to keep digging – and there’s plenty of gold in them hills. And now this, a brand new record that’s swiftly becoming one of my favourites of this year.
Venus and Time Goes Away have hints of the small handful of great Van Morrison tracks across the last decade or two, but it’s the title track that’s the first real hint of brilliance; the way Jeffreys bends blues and pop (again, still very Van Morrison-esque) is a delight.
There’s a roots-reggae aspect to his sound too (Reggae On Broadway) and some stirring, soulful balladry (Time Goes Away).
In a largely autobiographical set (When You Call My Name, Schoolyard Blues) the decision to cover The Velvet Underground and The Beatles hints at adolescent listening – and the version of Waiting for the Man is a clever recast, removing the indie-staple chug and creating more of a bluesy churn. But it’s the cover of Help by The Beatles that is most startling. Akin to the versions Bettye LaVette made on her last (brilliant) album, Help is turned into a slow, purposeful ballad.
A touch of hip-hop tinges Colored Boy Said – as Jeffreys brings politics and his personal story together. And on the closing Luna Park Love Theme, misty-eyed nostalgia is framed by a guest violin spot from Laurie Anderson.