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Forty years into his storied career, Garland Jeffreys is enjoying the kind of creative second wind most artists can only hope for the first time around, earning a swarm of critical accolades and experiencing his most prolific stretch in decades. ‘Truth Serum,’ his second album in two years, is a cri de cœur, a stripped-down tone poem from an artist taking his rightful and hard-earned place in the musical pantheon.
More than a dozen years had passed without an American album from Jeffreys when he came roaring back into the spotlight with 2011’s ‘The King of In Between.’ Hailed by NPR as “as good a classic roots rock record as you’re going to hear from anybody,” the record—which featured an appearance by old pal Lou Reed—earned raves from The New Yorker to USA Today and led to a performance on Letterman, as well as appearances onstage with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Levon Helm. The experience fueled a creative revitalization for the rocker, whose ebullient, late-stage creative energy colors every note of ‘Truth Serum.’
“The record is a kind of Rorschach, the boiled down essence of where I am today at seventy,” says Jeffreys. Sung with the most relaxed, assured delivery of his career, the lyrics express a seasoned, hard-won acceptance balanced with an unflagging sense of optimism, while the music merges blues, rock, reggae, and folk into an infectious concoction distinctly his own.
Written on guitar and demoed into a portable cassette player, the songs came in an endless avalanche at home and on the road. Preparing for new studio sessions meant listening to roughly 75 unlabeled cassette tapes and whittling down more than 50 tracks into a lean, muscular, and politically charged 10-song collection. “We had to buy a cassette player with a counter on it in order to track the songs,” remembers Jeffreys, who’s always preferred the compression and ragged feel of the tapes for his solo demos. “The guy at the store was amazed anyone would want such an antiquated machine. A couple of days later we bought another one in case they decide to stop making them.”
The process was an excavation, and “just like the last record, only when reviewing the songs as a whole album did I see a connection,” he explains. “I’ve always been something of an idealist, and that runs through a lot of the songs here.” “I was thinkin’ about the human race/And wishin’ we could reconcile/Live and let live is it too much to ask/Or would you rather it fall apart,” he sings on the R&B-inflected “Any Rain,” while “Colorblind Love” is a prescient reminder why the New York Times once dubbed him “the voice of multi-ethnic New York.”