Garland Jeffreys, Truth Serum. When it is time to find the rock singers who started in the '60s, stayed the course and never lost sight of the spark that first ignited their soul and still, to this day, live in that world of glowing inspiration, Garland Jeffreys is right there on top. On his new album Truth Serum, there is an eternal trembling truth that continues to ring the bells. To hear him continue experimenting with styles at the same time he holds on to his center is a mesmerizing journey through all that rock and roll can be today. The New Yorker has always lived in different worlds—black and white, uptown and downtown—and crosses freely wherever he goes. Garland Jeffreys has written his own rule book, and these ten songs show how he's done it.
The arc of music on the album is something to behold. The title song begins the adventure on an almost down-home blues feel, with wailing harmonica and razor-sharp slide guitar, setting the stage for what follows. There are hook-filled throat-catchers like "Any Rain" and "It's What I Am," the reggae-fueled "Dragons to Slay" (Garland recorded in Jamaica on his '73 debut so he definitely knows the score there), and even a tip of the hat to the Velvet Underground on "Collide the Generations." VU drummer Maureen Tucker should be smiling somewhere. "Far Far Away" is one of the most beautiful ballads Jeffreys has ever recorded, a mix of hope and hurt he has always excelled at. Genuine romantics everywhere can now rejoice as one. Album ender "Revolution of the Mind" is a succinct summary of what this music lifer believes, and a way to spread the word for our future. As 70-and-up-year-olds now redraw the boundaries for what rock and rollers are capable of, watch for Garland Jeffreys to be at the front of the parade, waving his freak flag highest.
Ry Cooder, Corridos Famosos Live. For someone who could reasonably be credited with helping create the whole Americana music world with his clear-eyed take on roots music way back when, Ry Cooder is someone who will not be slowed down. After wandering around all the strains of blues, folk, country, soul, rock and roll and, hell, even Hawaiian music, he grabbed conjunto king Flaco Jimenez in the mid-'70s and added that to the mix. Later he lit out for Cuba and the rest of the world. Once this man hits the high beams and races into it, there is A+ action guaranteed. On this live album, recorded during a two-night stand in San Francisco two years ago, Ry Cooder gathers together his ultra high-wire songbook, puts horn and percussion players La Banda Juvenil in the balcony since they didn't fit onstage and drives right over the ledge of normalcy into the wide and wonderful world of sound.
Everything from "Boomer's Story" to "The Dark End of the Street" to "Volver Volver" and, finally, "Goodnight Irene" is given the deluxe Cooder touch. Adding to the excitement is an audience that sounds like they are having the time of their life watching the night unfold. There is plenty of guitar pyrotechnics, Jimenez's accordion is full of San Antonio tears, soul singers Arnold McCuller and Terry Evans testify right on cue and Juliette Commagere delivers "Volver Volver" straight to the heavens. When La Banda Juvenil kick in on "El Corrido de Jesse James," it's like the roof flies right off the building as the band levitates into the sky. It's called live music and there is nothing better. Ry Cooder has been practicing this religion over 50 years, and by the righteous sound of things here has no intention of doing anything else. Hopefully the powers that be will give him the official American Musician position now while he can still enjoy it, and let the master of musical persuasion continue his endless explorations into the sonic sphere.
Various Artists, The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Singles 1967-1976. It would take a private detective a dozen years, fueled by truck-stop coffee and little white pills, to track down all the sweltering indie labels in the South that put the muscle in soul music back at its invention starting 60 years ago. Small towns that had a reel-to-reel recorder and a maniac behind the board used to make history regularly with one-off artists who rose to the top of the charts for a heartbeat and then disappeared forever. Of course, Muscle Shoals is the epitome of how success can breed success and lead to musical changes that are still being felt today. But how about Valparaiso, Florida and the stellar Minaret Records label? Outside the geekdom of record collectors, it would be hard to find those that are raving about all that went down at the Playground Recording Studio. Main man Finley Duncan had an ear for rhythm and blues and an eye for how to make things work. Duncan's business partner Shelby Singleton, Jr. knew the ins and outs of the record business, and for ten years Minaret had a direct line on deep soul that still hits the note.
Artists like Big John Hamilton, Johnny Dynamite, Leroy Lloyd and the Dukes, the Double Soul, Willie Cobbs, Genie Brooks, Gable Reed and others were frequent visitors to the studio. With deep-fried drum tracks, church-bound keyboards and a backbone-bopping horn section, Minaret was on fire. Hamilton in particular could have been a real contender, but even with some successful regional chartings he still escaped national attention. Sometimes artists really can be just too far off the mainline to capture maximum effect. As the '70s kicked in the house band started to drift to other areas and Duncan never found quite the right replacements. After Duncan's death in 1989 the studio became a shambles, but fortunately this music business tale has a happy ending. The studio was bought in 2005 by Jim Lancaster and restored to prime working condition. This 40-song collection of some of Minaret Records' shining soul moments might not put it up there in Muscle Shoals territory, but most definitely shows that in the Florida Panhandle four decades ago there was a party going on, one that will now last forever.