THE KING OF IN BETWEEN Garland Jeffreys (Luna Park)
Garland Jeffreys seemingly disappeared from the music scene 14 years after a critically acclaimed and criminally under-appreciated run in the '70s, '80s, and '90s when he made a series of excellent, literate, genre-defying releases.
Was he a drug casualty? Did the business burn him out? Was he a faddish product of the times?
None of the above. Jeffreys took a long hiatus to do something both noble and enriching: along with his wife, he concentrated on raising his daughter, Savannah. He took her to school every day, spent time with her, was part of her life as she grew up in New York, Jeffreys' home town.
Now he's back with his first release since 1997 on "The King of in Between" and hopefully at 68 he sticks around and makes a lot more albums. Perhaps best known for his '70s-era songs, "Wild In the Streets," "R.O.C.K.", and his cover of "96 Tears," Jeffreys has long flirted with various musical styles -- rock, pop, reggae, dub, ska, rhythm and blues, singer/songwriter confessionals -- that make him hard to pin down.
On "The King of In Between" he kicks off with a pair of Springsteen-like driving rockers, veers off into disco and R&B, swings around to John Lee Hooker-style boogie blues and makes his way to ska, and some funky J.B. Lenoir-like acoustic blues.
Coupled with a disc that contains a consistent lyrical theme -- "In Between" is both a loving homage to New York and a reflection on growing older -- the musical shifts make perfect sense and give the album a rollicking roller coaster vibe that keeps it in heavy rotation.
Jeffreys is receiving a ton of attention for this disc, including appearances on NPR and numerous critical kudos (expect to see "The King of In Between" on a lot of best of 2011 lists) and the cool thing is that he deserves it. For once, one of the good guys is winning.
(And hang around when the disc's apparent last song, "In God's Waiting Room" ends to hear a hidden track that reinterprets a great vintage '70s pop hit.)
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
LITTLE HELL City and Colour (Vagrant)
Listening to Dallas Green's music, you might get the impression he's not a happy guy. But don't be surprised if he hits it big with his deeply personal and often sad "Little Hell" -- much like Justin Vernon did in 2007 as Bon Iver with his critically adored album, "For Emma, Forever Ago."
Green, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., who also plays guitar and provides vocals for the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, performs under the moniker City and Colour. The 30-year-old wrote and sang all 11 songs on his third solo album, as well as playing guitar, bass, organ, piano, and drums.
The multitalented musician with the haunting beautiful voice doesn't shy away from what affects his life, whether it's the financial meltdown in the pop-tinged "Natural Disaster" or songs about his parents and sibling in the spooky "The Grand Optimist" and serene "O' Sister."
But Green is at his best when he speeds up the tempo and shows off his impressive guitar skills on the Black Keys-like "Fragile Bird" and standout track "Weightless."
On "Hope for Now," the album's final offering, Green sings "what if I could sing just one song/and it might save someone's life," daring you to give the song repeat listens.
-- BOB CUNNINGHAM
CUBAN RHAPSODY Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran (Alma)
"Cuban Rhapsody" is a beautiful collection of classic, all-instrumental Latin jazz-Cuban romantic songs performed with exquisite grace and style by two masters: soprano saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett and pianist Hilario Duran.
While much of North America and Europe generally is familiar with the saucy sophistication of Latin jazz, whether in the streets of New York City or elsewhere, Cuban classical has its own distinct body and texture. Most of these compositions are based on songs from the mid-19th century and from the 1940s through 1960s. But they are timeless and dance-step-worthy, especially when given a modern, yet respectful-to-the-era twist by Bunnett and Duran, who are known more for their contemporary work.
Both are quiet superstars as composers, arrangers, bandleaders, and musicians; Bunnett received the prestigious Smithsonian Institute Award in 2002 "for contributions and dedication to the development of Latin jazz." This is their first duet recording after collaborating on other projects for more than 20 years.
-- TOM HENRY