How ‘Ghost Writer’ Turned Us On To The Music Of Garland Jeffreys

Ghost Writer Album Review

Album Cover used under Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Fair Use Law for review purposes

I was the oldest child in my family. What that meant was I had nobody to turn me on to music. Many of my friends had older brothers and sisters who would have racks full of Beatles and Rolling Stones albums and many other artists. All I had was my mom’s Burt Bacharach albums and my father’s Charles Aznavour records. I discovered a lot of music in the 1970s, either on the radio or by simply walking into a record store and buying albums with cool covers. I found a lot of bands this way, such as Rush, The Runaways, Meat Loaf, and many others, whose album covers were often displayed on corner racks. This was the way I discovered the work of Garland Jeffreys.

The album cover for Ghost Writer just looked interesting. On the front cover, the cool detective looks at the mysterious Ghost Writer, and then the reverse on the back cover. Of course, they were both Garland Jeffreys, which made it even more fascinating. I thought anybody who could put out an album cover like this must have some exciting music inside.

I purchased the album, walked home from the mall as I always did because I didn’t drive, and was excited to drop the needle on the first track. The pulsating bass line of “Rough and Ready” immediately caught my attention. As soon as Garland began singing, I was taken aback. I had never heard a voice like this before. It was rock and roll with a whole lot of soul. But it was a different kind of soul that I couldn’t put my finger on.

Nonetheless, it was a good start. It’s funny, but the bass player who caught my attention was the legendary Anthony Jackson. I was too young to know about these great players, but I could still hear that the man could really play. It turned out he is one of the greatest of all time on the bass.

The album’s second track took his voice’s level of soul to an entirely new plane. It was a swing soul ballad with an island feel. It was a mix of reggae, soul, and rock interwinding to create an instantly captivating groove. Yet that was just the beginning; Garland Jeffreys’s vocal line was breathtaking. It sounded like a legendary hit single that I had never heard before. I checked the album credits and discovered that it was brand new. It sounded like it had come out of the 1960s, but it was a brand-new song released in 1977.

When one looks at the album’s credits, it’s easy to see why this album sounded so good besides Garland Jeffreys’ immeasurable talents. Atlantic Records really got behind the making of this album, fueled by an All-Star cast of musicians and pretty much resembled a Steely Dan album.  We already mentioned Anthony Jackson on bass, but on the drums was the legendary jazz drummers Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, and John Boudreaux. You also can’t say the word jazz, especially 60s and 70s jazz, without mentioning the Brecker Brothers, who also appeared on the album. And why not throw in another classic saxophone player, David Sanborn, who was also performing on The Ghost Writer album

Atlantic Records also hired Hugh McCracken, one of the most famous New York session guitar players of all time, to play on the record. The record also featured many well-known musical acts, such as Dr. John on piano and James Taylor on backing vocals. Are you starting to get the picture as to how special this album was?

After being blown away by the album’s first two songs, the record’s third track scored the knockout. Maybe it was because I was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx that this one hit me hard right away, but in the end, the fact was it was just a stunning song that has remained one of his golden pieces of music. On an album of what would become soaring songs, “New York Skyline” was its peak. It’s one of those special moments on record that every songwriter/ performer hopes to attain.  “New York Skyline” sounded like a mix of Springsteen, Steely Dan, and Stevie Wonder, It was a melting pot in many ways.

Side one closed with the tracks “Cool Down Boy,” a fun fast-paced, grooving song, and the title track “Ghost Writer,” which was a remarkable way to close out a truly outstanding album side. I think I played that first album side a few times before I even got to side two.

The record’s second side opened up with the rocker “Lift Me Up.” This one showed off his captivating falsetto and some excellent guitar work. It was remarkable how Garland Jeffreys would shift musical gears on every song on the record, as the second song on side two was the magnificent reggae track “Why-O.”  Following the song was the track heavily promoted on the stickers on the album covers and in print magazines. The song “Wild In The Streets” was initially released in 1973 by Garland Jeffreys with an arrangement by Dr. John. The new version released in 1977 is very similar to the 1973 recording. It would become one of Garland Jeffreys’ signature songs.

“Wild In The Streets” was followed on the album by the track “35 Millimeter Dreams,” which had a feel similar to the album opener, “Rough And Ready.”  The album closer “Spanish Town” was perfect. It was an epic cinematic piece of music bathed in city life, filled with metaphors, revolution, society, family, and a whole lot more. Garland Jeffreys’ vocal performance is off the charts on this one. It was a spectacular way to close out the album.

Many years later, I met Garland Jeffreys at a small concert hall in which I worked as the resident piano player warming up the audiences for performers like him. He was an incredibly nice down to Earth man. He thanked me in such a sincere way for letting him use my keyboard for the show.  I will never forget him performing the song “New York Skyline” acapella with no microphone. It was as beautiful and as genuine as it could get. No instruments, no amplification, just a man singing his heart out in perfect time and tune with a soulfulness that was just indescribable, standing on the edge of the stage in order to reach as many people in the audience as he could. That is what the man has always been about.

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