Rock and Roll Adult: Garland Jeffreys Returns from In Between

“I’m on the 90-year-plan,” Garland Jeffreys cracks.

When you’re helping to raise a 15-year-old daughter and your first album in 13 years is about to hit the market, there’s a reason to map out an ambitious future.

Jeffreys has been playing the occasional festival in Europe and the odd show here and there over the last decade, but mostly what he’s been is a full partner with his wife, Claire, raising their daughter, Savannah, in New York.

“She’s benefited from two parents who’ve been around,” he adds. “I didn’t see any reason to have a child and raise a child if you weren’t going to be around.”
She’s learned well, giving the old man a run for his money. She has a fan following on Youtube and a solo gig at The Bitter End later this month. “We’re raising an entrepreneurial rock and roller,” he says from his apartment near the East Village. “”That’s what you’ve got to be today.”

With Savannah Jeffreys well on her way, it’s time for dad to get back in the game, something Jeffreys does emphatically with “The King of In Between,” an effort worth the long wait.

“I wanted to make an album that means something,” he says. “I’ve really set the standards high and I’ve struggled at times to make songs that would work and are representative of me and what I’m thinking.”
The album features his strongest material since 1991’s “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat,” one of the signature discs of that decade. Jeffreys typically moves easily through rock and roll, reggae, and folk blues as the melodic foundation for his mix of personal history and social commentary.

“It’s very simple,” he says. “The music I grew up with and listened to my whole life is coming through me when I’m working.” That’s everything from Frankie Lymon to Dinah Washington to The Band to Dylan to Hank Williams and Motown.

“Some artists are easily recognized,” he adds. “Every song can sound the same on an album. I’m the opposite. I like the idea of trying to come up with a sequence of songs that are different from one another and make it work. That’s the challenge.”
For the album, Jeffreys called in favors from friends old and new. Steve Jordan plays drums, Brian Mitchell mans the keys, Mike Merritt is on bass and most of the guitar parts are played by Duke Levine and Larry Campbell. “One of the key things I say to these guys is I have no money,” Jeffreys says, chuckling. “They don’t call me for a month after that. But they understand. Any time someone asks me to sing on an album, I do it for free. You have to help out one another.”

Jeffreys called up Campbell, who he’d met in passing over the decades, and asked him to drop by his apartment to hear a few songs. The idea was for Campbell to contribute guitar and violin. But when they started recording, the two got along so well that Campbell became the album’s co-producer.
“I think the common thread — what I’m always looking for — is an honest interpretation of who you are,” Campbelladds, the morning after he’d played another one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles upstate. “He does that really well. The genre isn’t important. It’s about being true to yourself and expressing that. If that’s there, then I’m in.”

Campbell’s favorite cut on the disc is “Streetwise,” a slice of string-fueled Philly soul laid behind Jeffreys’ reflections on the world his child faces. Jeffreys suggested Campbell arrange the strings. Instead, he came into the studio one day with two violins and began laying down the string parts. “He doesn’t get off the seat for four hours,” Jeffreys recalls. “He lays down al lthe strings himself. I’d never seen anything like it before. The guy is amazing.”

Even Campbell says: “I think we really nailed something there. I think we really crystallized Garland’s initial vision of that tune.”

Jeffreys did return to the strudio for a couple of cuts because he felt there wasn’t enough energy on the record. One, “Coney Island Winter,” kicks off the album with ringing rock guitars and a deadpan delivery that owes a little to Jeffreys’ longtime friend, Lou Reed, who he met while a student at Syracuse University in the 1960s (Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals was another running mate there).

Other cuts like “All Around the World” and “The Contortionist,” featuring Reed and Savannah Jeffreys on background vocals, dip into reggae. “‘Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me” is a a shuffle that would make ZZ Top proud.

“Sooner or later gonna dust my broom,” he sings. It’s one of two songs on the album about facing mortality; the other is “In God’s Waiting Room.” “Here I am loving the song. I check with Larry and Steve and they think it’s great. I bring it home and my wife and daughter hate it,” he says. “I’m not connecting with the idea it could mean I’m going to die. I’m thinking about what a great song it is.”

Jeffreys admits he’s been wondering recently if he’ll live long enough to be around when his daughter makes her first record or gets married. “I’m not planning on leaving any moment too soon,” he says. “I’m healthy. I have no illnesses.”

The songs were written over the last five years and many were played live in the studio with the band. “There’s nothing like having a great band, a great bunch of players,” Jeffreys says. “You go over it, you get the chords straight and lay the track down, vocals at the same time, and there it is. You can add a couple of things afterwards.”

There is a sweetness as well as a toughness to his writing. The album explores the New York of his youth and of today, moving from remembrances of Coney Island to what he sees on the street outside his Stuyvesant Town apartment, where he says he likes to go down and sit in the park and shot the breeze.

As always, Jeffreys explores race and identity, which he addressed directly on “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat,” notably with “Hail, Hail Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “The Color Line.”

Jeffreys himself found it hard to fit in (listen to “I May Not Be Your Kind’). His father was the product of black and white parents. His grandmother was Puerto Rican. His grandfather was part Native American. He was raised Catholic, the only family of color in church.

“There was the awkwardness of being different,” he says, singing a line from “Spanish Blood:” “Say you’re Spanish; say you’re Spanish blood.”

That’s what he did as a youth, pass as Spanish, not black. “I would hide and get through,” he adds, hiding in his own skin.

And he notes that his daughter is a mixture of races as well and “lives in a world that is totally accepting. She said to me, ‘Dad, that’s your problem, not mine.’ ”

“I absolutely love to see my daughter with her friends hanging out on the basketball court with all kinds of kids,” he adds. “It’s that way now.”

Jeffreys started singing in kindergarten. He remembers crooning “Do the Huckle Buck,” offering a few lines during the interview. When he was older, he sang “It’s Almost Tomorrow” at an assembly. “That was it, man,” he says remembering. “That was the way a career started.”
After studying at Syracuse and abroad in Italy, he dropped out of graduate school and started a band. He moved upstate for a while, then returned to the city.

In 1973, he released his first solo album, “Garland Jeffreys.” A single not on the album, “Wild in the Streets,” became an FM radio hit. Among those who played on the tune were Dr. John and the Brecker Brothers.
His biggest hit came later in the 1970s with “Matador” off the “American Boy and Girl” album. The tune hit the top of the charts in several European countries. “It came out in ’79 and it still produces revenue and helps provide for our lifestyle,” he says. “I wish every songwriter has one of these.”

Most of his catalog is out of print, but he intends to get them back on the shelves and online in the next few months.
Jeffreys turns 68 this month, but he looks and sounds much younger. Being a songwriter hasn’t been easy over the past decade. He’s remained big in Europe; he’ll play festivals in Spain and Belgium this summer with his Europe-based band, The Coney Island Playboys. But he’ll focus more on playing in the States, building again a fan base.

Jeffreys headed upstate to play a Midnight Ramble with Helm and Campbell a few weeks ago, closing the show with a sing-along of “The Weight.” “I’m glad he’s doing it again,” Campbell says. “You can see he’s got all that enthusiasm and fire. He just gives it up. He’s the real thing.

Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo Talks About “Wood and Stone”

Tara Nevins has been one of the main songwriters and vocalists in the jam band, Donna the Buffalo, for more than two decades, building a collection of fine roots albums and a widespread fan base known as The Herd.

More than a decade after her solo debut, Nevins, who will play at North Shore Point House Concerts in Norfolk on June 11,  recently released “Wood and Stone,” a stellar collection that moves easily from fiddle music to contemporary folk rock to Cajun. It’s an album that sounds familiar, yet new, not an easy feat. Nevins is joined by a few guests, notably Levon Helm, who pounds the skin on three cuts, Jim Lauderdale, who lends harmonies on the back porch sound of “Snowbird,” and Allison Moorer. Larry Campbell, the multi-instrumentalist genius who has played extensively with Bob Dylan in recent years, produces and lends his string talents all over the place.

Nevins writes with honesty and just enough of a sense of humor about where she’s been. She kicks off with a propulsive fiddle-fueled rock tune, “Wood and Stone,” that wouldn’t sound out of place on a DTB disc (the band is working on its tenth album). “All I Ever Need” takes a Cajun twist on a love gone sideways. And “You’re Still Driving That Truck” is a wry payback.

On “What Money Cannot Buy,” she sings:

 Rose colored memories on which my heart is hung

Fade like a song that’s too long been unsung

I wish I had hard times stuck inside my head

Help me to forget we’d ever met

Then she follows with the country swing of “You Walked the Wrong Side,” a toe tapping done-me-wrong song that sounds like something off a Patsy Cline record.

She chooses her covers well, reworking the standard “Stars Fell on Alabama,” remade as a back porch story,  and reaching back for Van Morrison “The Beauty of Days Gone By,” a stately meditation showcasing her vocal elasticity, and the traditional Down South Blues,” reworked as old fashioned country pop offering.

Were the songs for “Wood and Stone” written over the decade since your first solo album or were they the product of only recent work?

The songs on this record are for the most part the product of more recent work.

There’s an introspection to many of the songs, some looking back and some looking at the present. Was there something that prodded you in that direction?

 I was married for 13 years and six years ago that marriage ended.  It was a huge life shift for me. It’s been a journey I wasn’t expecting.   I’ve learned a lot about myself in these recent six years and have gained or rediscovered an inner strength.  I’ve also had a few relationships since then.  This record definitely reflects all of that.

To you, is there a difference sitting down to write a song for you to play solo and writing a song for the band?

No, not necessarily.  Sometimes perhaps, if I feel like writing in a more traditional style a song may be less suited to the band, but even then that’s not necessarily true.

You feature a jazz standard, “Stars Fell on Alabama.” How did you decide to include that?

A couple of years ago I was spending a lot of time in Huntsville Alabama  where a movie called “20 Years After” was being made.  I was asked to rewrite “Stars Fell On Alabama” in an Old Time mountain style for the soundtrack. After the movie came out a lot of folks who had seen the movie wrote to me asking where they could buy a recording of my version of song!  Between that and the fact that the song fit the theme of the record, I decided to put it on.

Larry Campbell has worked with a bunch of great artists from Dylan to Levon Helm to Garland Jeffreys. How did you come to work with him?

I had written these songs the few years I spent in Huntsville Alabama, which is 96 miles south of Nashville.  I was set on recording the record there in Nashville and was thinking about and talking to producers there. I was talking to my friend, Jim Lauderdale, about making the record and he suggested Larry Campbell.  He said “I think Larry Campbell is your guy.” I didn’t know Larry personally. Jim called him on my behalf and told him about my project.  I sent Larry some songs. He liked what he heard and decided that yes he would like to produce the record.

Was there something he brought to the project? Did you approach it differently collaborating with him?

Larry was a perfect fit for the project.  He has a great knowledge of and has played a lot of traditional music over the years. He’s played plenty of contemporary music as well.  I wanted to give the traditional nature of some of the songs I wrote a more contemporary feel, while giving the more contemporary sounding songs a bit of a traditional feel.  The idea was to create a cohesive whole with all these varied musical ingredients that over the years have made the pieces to my own musical puzzle I guess you could say.

Larry totally got what I was after.   He related to and dug the concept.    By the second day of recording he had a clear vision of the picture he was helping me create.   He’s brilliant that way and is an amazingly talented  multi – instrumentalist.  He was all about the record sounding honest and organic — real. I trusted his musical sensibilities and was able to let go in a way that doesn’t come naturally to me.

You’ve played different kinds of music in your career. Tell me about the journey? What did you start playing? And how did the Cajun influence work its way into your sound?

I played the violin all through public school.  In high school I bought the “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” record and was first introduced to the fiddle music.  I was drawn to it immediately.  Later in college at the Crane School Of Music, my roommate, fellow violinist, played in an Old time fiddle band.  There I reconnected with my interest in and attraction to Traditional fiddle music.  I graduated, leaving my classical studies behind, and started traveling to festivals in the South where I became part of a community of folks who like me had discovered and fallen in love with this music. It was a very powerful time of musical discovery and learning.  I still travel to these festivals every year.

I had a lot of things going at once.  I had started a fiddle band with three women called The Heartbeats.  I was also writing songs and  had started an electric band with some friends called Donna The Buffalo.

Along the way, at some of these fiddle conventions Id go to, I was introduced to the music of Louisiana – the Cajun and Zydeco music.  Later I took a trip to southwest Louisiana to the Mardi Gras there and bought an accordion.

—end —

Madision Violet at North Shore Point House Concerts

I’m taking reservations for the next show at North Shore Point House Concerts in Norfolk on May 7 featuring the stunning harmonies of Canadian folk rock group, Madison Violet.

No doubt, you’ve never heard of Madison Violet. But that’s one of the reasons the series exists — to bring in great artists you’d never otherwise see. They are stars north of the border (just check the videos on the North Shore site or Youtube).

They’ve won the John Lennon International Songwriting Competition, been nominated for numerous awards, including a Juno, the Canadian Grammy. Listen and you will be convinced.

The donation is $20.  As always, you may arrive as early as 7 p.m. and share snacks.

Go to the web site or email for reservations. You’re free to bring friends. We will reply with directions.

For more on them, go to the web site, or just go to the North Shore Point web site and check out the videos.

The rest of the schedule (this far):

Sept. 10, Kevin Welch with special guest Dustin Welch.
Sept. 23 Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers.
Oct. 23, Steve Forbert.
April 14, 2012 Kim Richey.
May 19, 2012, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper.

Past shows include Marshall Crenshaw, Dave Alvin, Jimmy LaFave, Peter Case, Don Dixon and Marti Jones and dozens of others.

Please forward this to friends and share the special experience of a house concert.

North Shore Point House Concerts: Kevin Welch and Sam Baker on Saturday

The forecast is for good weather for the next show at North Shore Point House Concerts on Saturday, June 26 at 8 p.m. with Kevin Welch ( and Sam Baker ( with Natalia Zukerman and John Fullbright supporting.

This is basically a four-for-one show. Each of these artists could headline a house concert alone.

Send an email to, sign your full name, and let us know how many seats you’d like. You’re free to bring friends, lots of them.

The donation is $20. (although you can pitch in more — all the money goes to the artists). As always, you may arrive early and picnic, converse, and otherwise enjoy the company.

Kevin’s new album, “A Patch of Blue Sky,” his first solo release in eight years, will be debuted at the show. He’s merely one of the guys who started the Americana movement, not to mention being one of the first songwriters to start a label. He’s one of the great American songwriters with a rich expressive, voice.

If you need any further convincing, here are videos from them.

Kevin doing his new one, “Answer Me That:”

Sam doing “Sweetly Undone” with Gurf Morlix:

Natalia doing “Brand New Frame” with Willy Porter:

We hope to see you as part of the house concert community on Saturday night.

Shannon McNally House Concert, April 10

Shannon McNally, a fine songwriter with a  sultry rock/folk/blues voice., will be playing my house concert series, North Shore Point House Concerts, on Saturday April 10.

Her debut album, “Jukebox Sparrow,” in 2002 captivated me and I’ve been a fan since. I never expected we’d be able to land her for the series. This should be a great show with her band, Hot Sauce.

If you’re interested in attending, email me at

You can listen to samples at:

You can see her perform at:

She has opened for Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks, Wilco, John Mellencamp, Dave Alvin, and Willie Nelson (several of us saw her at The NorVa a few years back).

Don’t rely on my word; here’s what the reviewers say:
“McNally’s sound bears a timelessness that’s truly uncommon.. [she] projects tenderness and toughness in ways that are remarkable and unequaled.”
— Jim Caligiuiri, The Austin Chronicle

“Her angelic shiver-sending drawl gives the music its hurt, its hate and, most importantly its heart… McNally gives the gift of believability to all she sings.”
— Mike Bell, The Calgary Sun

“She has the voice: bruised, smoky and ornery, right at home where country and soul meet.. She has the melodies and the timing.. she’s irresistible.”
— Jon Pareles, The New York Times”