New Release: West Towards South
The playing is tasty, arrangements on point. Halford’s ability to weave in canonical references is impressive. Dylan allusions, but more impressionistic. Pour yourself another round.
Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
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Perfect rhymes that paint vivid word pictures over an electrifying musical soundscape. A must for your collection.
Bob Leggett, lamusiccritic.com
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West Towards South blends vibrant Americana with an ominous blues tonality in tracks like “A Town Called Slow,” “Deeper Than Hell” and the aching acoustic number “Gallows.” There’s a little something for everybody in these ten stylish new songs, and frankly, you don’t have to be the biggest fan of roots rock to appreciate just how phenomenal a record this is from start to finish.
Michael Rand, mobojangles.com
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If you can imagine Tom Petty singing vocals for the Eagles while BB King plays dirty blues, then you have a taste of the awesomeness that is Jeffrey Halford. On his eighth CD, Lo-Fi Dreams, he strips down his sound and lets the magic erupt. The first track, “Two Jacksons,” sets the stage, and every song thereafter continues the story with amazing vocals, lyrics and musicality. We simply cannot say enough about this album, which truly shines. Every song is worthy of accolades
Bob Leggett, No Depression
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Putting aside for the moment the ‘Lo-Fi’ elements of this album and focusing on the man and his music, he is a songwriter of rare intelligence and a documentary maker – in music – unsurpassed today.
All these songs tell stories of America. The seamy, the poignant, the downright ridiculous and the heartbreaking – all are grist to his pen and he seems to love the people he writes about, even when he is at his most acid.
Andy Snipper, Music News
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Rainmaker is an entirely excellent recording, with strong tone and superb instrumentation, but by far my favorite feature is Jeffrey Halford’s voice. He is really something special to hear, so genuine in tone and so close to you as if he is sitting in front of you without a microphone. You will always know it’s him as soon as he starts to sing. I am going to enjoy this recording for a long time to come.
Michael Welchans, National Country Review
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Rainmaker is as well-produced and realized American roots album as you’re likely to hear this year. It’s an album that should give Nashville and Austin reason to take notice with its originality and inspired consistency. Rainmaker finds its place comfortably and ably alongside the finest Americana of 2014.
Terry Roland, No Depression
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Each song plays like a scene from a movie. The tunes are vivid takes on love, relationships and the human condition. Halford is the writer and has a rich, emotive voice that is an uncanny blend of Petty, Dylan, Knopfler, Robertson, Cooder and the like.
Eric A. Harabadian, Music Connection
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Broken Chord again highlights his strengths as a talented wordsmith with the soul of a rugged roadhouse rocker.
Michael Berick, No Depression
After five critically acclaimed albums, Jeffrey Halford has little to prove at this point. He’s got a crack band in the Healers, he plays viseral guitar with slinky abandon and writes rootsy swampy blues songs that sting and soothe equally. Halford continues his quality streak with Broken Chord.
Brian Baker, Harp Magazine
Singer/songwriter and animated guitarist Jeffrey Halford’s latest release mixes poignant, reflective pieces with intense, powerful tunes and occasional topical numbers. Halford’s taut vocals and furious guitar work prove the driving force on all 10 numbers. Halford’s merger of blues, country and soul proves magical on Broken Chord.
Ron Wynn, Nashville City Paper
Halford is proving a consistent, strong songwriter capable of creating one fine record after another.
John Heidt, Vintage Guitar
Broken Chord, like the rest of Halford’s work with The Healers, follows his journey of ordinary working class people, as they travel down the weary highways of the heart, picking up the broken pieces of the American dream. They are a band that lays down some of The City’s darkest roots rock.
J. Poet, SF Examiner
His original roots rock ‘n roll songs etch a uniquely American landscape.
Left of singer/songwriter and somewhere in the folk/rock/country continuum, this heartfelt,Â heartland set really connects.
Midwest Record Recap
I really like it – a really tasty surprise.
WUSB (NY/AAA station)
Jeffrey Halford: Soulful blues-influenced storyteller and songwriter with a tight delivery. Halford and crew go well beyond a mastery of their instruments. They’re performers, storytellers, and entertainers. Their impeccable improvisational skills make listeners feel that each moment of their performance is unique and special, and their energy could make you want to jump out of your chair and shake.
Paula Munoz / Music Connection (Live show review)
Entertainment News and Views
Listening with Lee Zimmerman
Jeffrey Halford is one rugged individual. On this, his fifth album, the San Francisco troubadour serves up a rough and tumble assortment of swampy rockers and lazy, reflective R&B, all sung from the vantage point of someone who’s lived life with a street-side view. Imagine Willie Nelson fronting Creedence Clearwater Revival and you get a hint of Halford’s visceral perspective.
Certainly, Halford doesn’t wince when it comes to laying out his guttural grooves. On songs such as “Rent for Own,””Halfway Gone,””Nine Hard Days”and “Out on the Run,”he sings with the determination of a man possessed, looking at life and its challenges with a visceral edge that consistently spikes these grooves. Appropriately, in its moments of reflection and reminiscence, as Halford croons his way through soulful, sentimental ballads like “Safe at Home”and “Vancouver Rain,”the music’s no less affecting. Here he conjures up images of memories long past but not forgotten, days when life offered a deeper embrace:Â “You can take my possessions/But you’ll never take away/That night in the Vancouver Rain.”
Halford has some notable assists hereâ€”keyboard legend Augie Meyer of the Sir Douglas Quintet and fellow San Francisco guitarist Chuck Prophet help underpin these turgid melodies with a dark, evocative sound that evokes the passion and resolve in each of these evocative vignettes. A hard-edged, non-nonsense collection of stirring songs filled with memorable music, Railbirds could provide Halford’s well-deserved breakthrough.
Songwriter ‘thrives’ under pressure
(Salt Lake City, Utah) 4/15/05
By Scott Iwasaki
Jeffrey Halford likes writing songs under pressure. “I thrive on it,” he said by phone from his San Francisco home. “It gets me going and I know I have to put myself up a notch to make it sound good.”
In fact, when Halford went into the studio to record his new album “Railbirds,” he had more than three-fourths of the songs written. But something was missing, so he decided to write some more. “I ended up writing 20 songs. But I whittled them down to 14 for the album. However, at least three of those songs I wrote at the last minute, and they, to me, are some of the best songs on the album.”
One of those is the title track. “It was funny. I was talking with a writer friend of mine and he said, ‘All the railbirds are gone,’ meaning all the old-timers are gone. And that just stuck with me. So I wrote the song and set it at a race track. It represents the passing of lives. And I named the record after it.”
The other two songs Halford wrote at the last minute were “Purgatory” and “South of Bakersfield. “The first song is about a man who is waiting for judgment and reflecting on his life. The other is a story about a girl who has never been south of Bakersfield, Calif., and finds someone she just clicks with.”
One of the surprises of the album is a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump in the Fire.” “I usually don’t do covers, but I’ve been into Nilsson for the last three years. I mean, I’ve listened to him growing up â€” I’m an old guy. But I’ve been getting into him even more these days. He’s a crafty songwriter. He doesn’t care what people think. But he’s so gifted that anything he touched or wrote sounded great. I could talk forever about Nilsson.”
Halford cut his teeth on Ray Charles, Big Bands, and Simon & Garfunkel. When he decided to embark on his own musical career he was surprised that it took a little twist. “I was a studio guitarist. And there were people who thought I was pretty good. In fact, I thought if I made it in the music business that it would be my guitar-playing that did it. But it wasn’t. It was the songwriting. That’s what people have come to recognize me for.
“I’m lucky songwriting came my way. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. And I’m lucky to be where I am because of it.”
Midwest Record Recap
Whew, one of those finds you’re always glad to come across.Â Halford grew up listening to great music, internalizing it and understanding it.Â With a pen as sharp as all your fave greats of the modern age, Halford and his crew enlist some legends that show up and don’t play like they’re just here for the paycheck.Â Left of singer/songwriter and somewhere in the folk/rock/country continuum, this heartfelt, heartland set really connects.
MILES OF MUSIC
With musical influences that include folk, soul, country, rock, blues and rockabilly, San Francisco’s Jeffrey Halford can smoothly cover all the bases on the Americana playing field. On Railbirds, Halford delivers a tart performance with a sly, melodic tenor that shifts from hearty and bluesy swagger to rockin’ punch, with room for a bit of tender as well. The title track, being the prime example, is a subtle acoustic country-folk number that features some haunting piano accompaniment by Adam Rossi, of SF band Luce. Halford’s compelling stories and descriptive narrative is literate and strong and recalls Chuck Prophet, who, by the way, happens to guest on the record with some guitar and vocals. Among the other guests on Railbirds are Augie Meyers on the Hammond and Vox organs and ex-Counting Crow, and current Luce drummer, Steve Bowman. With his band The Healers, who have followed him through two previous releases (Kerosene and the critically acclaimed Hunkpapa), Halford stands as unique and vibrant force in Americana.
Halford returns more intricate, tightly conceived CD
By Ron Wynn, email@example.com
March 25, 2005
Jeffrey Halford disagrees with the notion that too much advance preparation will inevitably drain the life and spontaneity out of any studio project. Halford, who concludes a series of Nashville performances with an engagement tonight at 3rd and Lindsley, wanted a different vibe and feel for his upcoming release Railbirds, so he took some major steps to ensure getting exactly what he wanted out of the session.
“After Hunkpapa got all the reviews and praise that it received, I felt pressure to make sure that the next one was even better,”Halford said. “So I took a lot of time making this one, nearly three years altogether. We would do a couple of songs and make sure that those were what we wanted, then we’d go back later and do some more. It wasn’t a thing of just kind of experimenting and seeing what might or might not work in the studio but a process of making sure that every song came out just like we wanted it. I’m very happy with what we got, but this was a lot more structured than usual.”
But no one should equate those statements with assuming that it’s too polished and precise. Railbirds (Shoeless) contains plenty of the rampaging, dynamic slide guitar playing that’s always characterized Halford’s releases, augmented by a soulful, forceful and gritty vocal sound that punctuates and spices every number. Steeped in everything from jump blues to rockabilly, country and most of all vintage rock ‘n’ roll, the Halford band has a simple but edgy and surging style that makes their songs fun and consistently underscores Halford’s determination to make very personal music that’s engaging without being repetitive or predictable.
He’s been playing this week with an outstanding rhythm section that includes drummer Bryan Owings, bassist Jeff “Stick”Davis and keyboardist Ericson Holt, and he has plenty of compliments for this trio.
“I hadn’t worked with these guys in many years [their last joint venture was in 2001] and they’re all among the greatest musicians around, which is really saying something in a place like Nashville. They all bring such professionalism to the stage, and they know how to make you sound better and make everything seem so easy.”
Music has long been Halford’s primary passion, though he enrolled in architecture school in San Francisco after high school. But an encounter with the street band Jimmy Ventilator and Harry Spider forever changed his life. Halford spent a year working with them playing to crowds in Union Square and Chinatown. From there, he moved on to backing West Coast blues greats like J.J. Malone and Sonny Lane, and eventually formed the Healers while backing a host of musicians from Robert Earl Keen and Chris Isaak to John Hammond, Augie Meyers and Dave Alvin.
“Our music does touch on a lot of things, but for me when you get down to the main thing, it is rock ‘n’ roll,”Halford said. “That has a little of everything in it anyway, some blues, country, gospel and soul.”
Roots-Rocker Jeffrey Halford Gives Nashville Sneak Previews of New CD, ‘Railbirds’
“This ought to be the most fun I’m gonna have for a while. It’ll be like driving my old man’s firebird.” Jeffrey Halford NASHVILLE (March 2, 2005)
Bluesy San Francisco- based roots-rocker Jeffrey Halford will make the most of his upcoming visit to Music City, playing tunes from his brilliant new CD, RAILBIRDS, in a series of three can’t-miss performances ( March 22, 23 & 25), previewing the album’s April 12 release. Joining him in his first performances since 2001 are local favorites drummer Bryan Owings, bassman Jeff “Stick” Davis and keyboard player Ericson Holt. “These boys are the best rhythm section in America today,” says Halford. “This ought to be the most fun I’m gonna have for a while. It’ll be like driving my old man’s firebird.”
Halford, a soulful singer-songwriter whose musical and literary influences range from Roger Miller and Johnny Cash to Raymond Carver and Pablo Neruda, is also a ferocious slide guitar player who has shared the stage with the likes of Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Etta James, The Radiators, Robert Earl Keen, John Hammond and Dave Alvin
Jeffrey Halford writes songs about America and backs them up with great Americana roots rock. His proficiency on slide guitar rips up one side and down the other and will simply bowl you over. Its been quite awhile since I’ve heard a CD that just wouldnt get out of the carousel, every time I listen to it I find something new to crow about. The lyrics on hunkpapa tell of life in this here country with a passion and wit that keeps your ear tuned in to their homespun honesty and sharp eyed observations.
From “Stones Throw:”
“Inside theyre cutting up a rug
Lifting up a jug
About a stones throw away
When the shovel hits the mud
Too much will make you crazy
Not enough will do you in
She wanted it all
He wanted more than one
The music pushed on
Their bodies caressed
Her blade pierced through a pin-striped vest…”
More great lyrics give you an idea of Halfords musical inspirations:
“The wolf, the killer, the man in black
Wrong side of the rail road tracks
Elvis Aaron and Reverend Green
Dont forget about Mr. B.B. King”
Other great songs on “Hunkpapa” include “Memphis,” “Radio Flyer” and “Satchels Fastball.” All of these mentioned are outstanding, but everything on this album shines in its own way. Definitely a keeper.
October 2001 Paul Bronks
More blues influenced rock from Jeffrey and his Healers, carrying on from where 1999’s “Kerosene” left off, this time round featuring ex Santana bass player Myron Dove and former Counting Crows guitarist Steve Bowman. A remarkably fresh faced Halford shows songwriting maturity and a blues guitar expertise well beyond his years. With a voice that echoes Tom Petty in his prime, Dallas born Jeffrey has penned 12 short stories all held together with his seemingly effortless guitar work, particularly on the masterful slide of “Small Craft Advisory”. Halford gets a helping hand from Chuck Prophet on the excellent “Radio Flyer” and the tale of a love doomed to failure that is “Lost and Found”, “â€¦.the first strong wind, we were bound to fail â€“ but we pushed onâ€¦” The band gel in such a way that you swear they’d been playing together for years. The Stones-like “Memphis” is either a roll call of blues, country and rock ‘n roll legends or a run down of his parents’ record collection and you can clearly see their influence on his music. The album as a whole plays like a soundtrack for a yet-to-be-made road movie, so strong is the characterization in these songs. A fine album and one that shows Jeffrey Halford to be one of the leading lights in the extremely crowded market of singer/songwriters.
THE POSH ROCK RAIL
Bernard Weikert – Bluffton, S.C.
Jeffrey Halford writes songs about America and backs them up with great Americana roots rock His proficiency on slide guitar rips up one side and down the other and will simply bowl you over. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve heard a CD that just wouldn’t get out of the carousel, every time I listen to it I find something new to crow about. The lyrics on hunkpapa tell of life in this here country with a passion and wit that keeps your ear tuned in to their homespun honesty and sharp eyed observations. From “Stone’s Throw”: “Inside they’re cutting up a rug Lifting up a jug About a stone’s throw away When the shovel hits the mud Too much will make you crazy Not enough will do you in She wanted it all He wanted more than one The music pushed on Their bodies caressed Her blade pierced through a pin-striped vest…” More great lyrics give you an idea of Halford’s musical inspirations: “The wolf, the killer, the man in black Wrong side of the rail road tracks Elvis Aaron and Reverend Green Don’t forget about Mr. B.B. King” Other great songs on “Hunkpapa” include “Memphis”, “Radio Flyer” and “Satchel’s Fastball”. All of these mentioned are outstanding, but everything on this album shines in it’s own way. Definitely a keeper.
Although San Francisco-based, Jeffrey Halford makes music that is seeped in the South. It’s a sound forged from roots rock and country blues, with a hint of gospel and folk. The easy-flowing “Oh, Susanna” begins with a brief guitar nod to the same-named traditional tune and then proceeds to tell a Civil War-set narrative from a Confederate soldier’s perspective, which refers to Ambrose Bierce’s short story Incident at Owl Creek Bridge. “Memphis,” meanwhile, is a rousing tribute to that Tennessee town complete with shout-outs to Al Green, B.B. King, and the King, Elvis. Throughout the record, Halford displays a sharp storytelling eye. The hobo ode “Straight Razor” and the panoramic tale of Central California, “Black Gold,” stand out as particularly evocative, moving songs. Sometimes his societal critiques verge on becoming heavy-handed; both the anti-gun “.”44” and the Native American history lesson “Crazy Horse” drive home their points a bit too hard. “Satchel’s Fastball,” however, nicely injects an undercurrent of ’50s racial politics into this Satchel Paige-centered baseball story. But for all of his gritty tales, Halford also adeptly displays a softer side. “Radio Flyer,” for example, beautifully tells its story of a parent talking lovingly about his young child. This poignant tune recalls Bring the Family-era John Hiatt and the similarities continue in Halford’s Southern soulful vocals and his rootsy rock sound. While he might not have reached Hiatt’s songwriting peaks, “Halford” does demonstrate a real ability to pen vivid stories, and aided by his loose band of compatriots, the Healers, he puts them across with just enough muscle to make an impact without being overly melodramatic.
– Bob Cianci
( Narrowsburg, NY– News Source for Delaware Valley)
Jeffrey Halford and The Healers, Hunkpapa, Shoeless Records Back after his well-received Kerosene disc of 1999, west coast singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeffrey Halford has released his latest disc, brimming with rootsy, Americana rock ‘n roll. Halford has matured as a songwriter, and his band is up to the task of interpreting his talented musings. The music is muscular, yet sensitive and ironic, and loaded with soul. Jeffrey Halford and The Healers are one of the best, unheralded rock bands out there, and Hunkpapa may give them the hit they deserve. Buy this one. Shoeless Records, 74 Agua Way, San Francisco, CA 94127, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunkpapa… (Shoeless) Simply phenomenal. An engaging blend of Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen and Guy Clark, Halford and his band have crafted a fantastic album that fans of great story-telling songs are sure to love. Halford’s voice seemingly oozes from the speakers as if he’s inside your soul, singing your thoughts, hopes and fears with an uncanny eye and heart that makes you gasp for air as you listen. The arrangements are filled with nuance and an ear for dynamics while the productions is as good as any I have heard. This hasn’t left my player since I got it and, right now, it’s my number one CD this year.
Music Reviews Quarterly
Jeffrey Halford & the Healers – Hunkpapa Shoeless Records, www.jeffreyhalford.com Jeffrey Halford’s previous disc, Kerosene, was an excellent piece of Americana. His newest, Hunkapapa, is a perfect piece of Americana. Halford’s roots music stays on the rock, R&B, and blues side of the Americana genre, veering less toward country music than most of others using that style. The electric guitar is the instrument of choice, whether it’s a slide guitar or a Telecaster, and as long as there is a solid backbeat, Halford seems perfectly content to let things roll without further ado.
Hunkapapa is a perfect mesh of everything that makes a record great: excellent songwriting, excellent playing, and a rock and roll energy that just won’t sit still, even when the sound layer is fairly sparse. The Sticky Fingers/ Beggar’s Banquet-era Rolling Stones employed almost identically the same formula, dipping into all of the roots of American music for some of the best material they ever recorded. Jeffrey Halford finds himself exactly in the same zone the Stones were in then. He can fire it up when he wants to, and he can be slinky with the blues when he wants to, all the time keeping the true sense of rock and roll dead center on each cut.
If any one line catches exactly what Jeffrey Halford is up to on Hukapapa, it’s one from “Black Gold” where the narrator describes a radio broadcast: “Listening to a Los Banas station/ Puts out the real deal/ That Telecaster knows just how I feel.”
Halford’s music is the kind that takes you by surprise when you’re listening to a radio station and suddenly something comes on that is obviously the “real deal,” and you just pray you don’t have to get out of the car until they announce who the heck this guy is. Hukapapa is song after song of that kind of music. In fact, there isn’t a song here that wouldn’t have you sitting in the car waiting for to announce his name. The rock songs are superb – “Black Gold,” “Memphis,” “.44,” ” Crazy Horse,” “Satchel’s Fastball,” “Straight Razor.” But then all of the songs have their strengths (and plenty of them); the opening verse of “Radio Flyer” hits with its sentiment: “I got a boy about two feet ten/ Wants to do it over and over again/ Good Night Moon and one sweet kiss/ It does not get any bigger than this.” Each song has something that makes it required re-listening, and each listening draws a greater addiction to the way the songs, Halford’s soulful voice, and the tightness – the incredible tightness of that band, the Healers – dovetails together. The stories are all significant, the words tightly honed; Halford wastes nothing. Each guitar note is perfectly matched to the opening it fills. The guitar talent of Halford and his band and guests gets matched by excellent taste, and when that is put over the tight underbelly of drums and bass, the rock and roll just comes out exactly right, “the real deal.”
Several guests of honor do appear along with the Healers, including a man who has become one of my favorite artists, Chuck Prophet. Prophet contributes his typically strong guitar work on a couple of cuts. Other guests include Steve Bowman, formerly of Counting Crows, members of the Gospel Hummingbirds, and Myron Dave, an ex-Santana bass player. On the best recordings, you don’t even know it when guests are playing a role in the band; that’s what happens here. The Healers are so good that no guest can improve much on what is already there; he or she must blend in. The only exception to that is when those Gospel Hummingbirds sing on “Memphis” and “Satchel’s Fastball,” and that’s only because Halford doesn’t use that many backing vocals in his music. His lead vocal is quite a commanding presence, and he wisely just lets it stay out in front. Halford’s voice isn’t like Mick Jagger’s in tone, but it is in the confidence, control, and rock and roll edge he puts into the songs.
The roots market has huge potential for bringing good rock and roll back to radio. Where it has floundered so far is in too strong an allegiance to Neil Young and an intrinsic dislike of being thought commercial. Nothing is wrong with either of those attitudes, but it will take a robust, tight, potent rock in the style of the Rolling Stones to have any hope that radio will buy into it. Some great rock and roll is being made (Chuck Prophet’s own discs as well as his one-shot group, Raisins in the Sun, are simply two more fine examples), and while radio hasn’t taken the bait yet, it could. For that reason recordings like Hukapapa from Jeffrey Halford and the Healers need to be out there. As Halford himself says in “Radio Flyer”: “It does not get any bigger than this.”
Jeffrey Halford and The healers offer up a hearty slice of Americana pie on their new album Hunkpapa, a disc that is a welcome addition to any music collection. Hartford extracts ear-catching melodies and intelligent lyrics from his guitar to create a back porch roots-rock feel that would give John Mellencamp a run for his money if the music business was an even playing field. Halford explores the back roads of America armed with a quick wit and a masterful musical sense that allows him to dig deep beneath the surface of everyday living and turn his findings into songwriting gold. Stand out tracks include “St. Vincent De Paul,” “Memphis” and the electrified “Crazy Horse,” with lyrics that could only come from the heart of a poet: “Another sad story, make no mistake/ those who worship the rattlesnake/ Started early, their demise/ we were like poison, I was not yet alive…” If you haven’t heard Jeffrey Halford and The Healers, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
God Bless Americana
Jeffrey Halford, who plays Sly’s this weekend, brings a new and authentic voice in from the road.
By Chuck Thurman
From the opening chords of Jeffrey Halford’s National Resolectric guitar on his second CD, Hunkpapa, there’s a feeling of something special going on. There’s a Delta-bluesy guitar sequence that quickly devolves into something that sounds like second-line funk making love to alt-rock on Robert Johnson’s grave. Even without words, “Stone’s Throw” is an ominous song that flows inexorably to tragedy. Add the lyrics and the song becomes a haunting, contemporary tribute to the dark side of life and love.
“Inside they’re cutting up a rug Lifting up a jug, About a stone’s throw away When the shovel hits the mud…. Too much will make you crazy Not enough will do you in She wanted it all He wanted more than one… The music pushed on Their bodies caressed Her blade pierced through a pin-striped vest…”
Halford’s debut performance this weekend at Sly McFly’s comes near the end of a national tour promoting this great new album. It’s a roadtrip that’s taken him from his San Francisco home, through Texas, as far east as Nashville and back to California. On his way into Denver from Kansas City, between bursts of cell phone static, Halford talked about “Stone’s Throw,” and the rest of his album that’s picking up favorable notice from critics and DJs across the country.
“‘Stone’s Throw,’ yeah. It’s a dark love song. It’s very much like a step into the life of the Delta blues and how they really lived,” Halford says. “The Delta blues is something that I really love. I think it’s just so interesting, if you look at the way people lived and loved.”
The rest of Hunkpapa (named after a band of the Sioux tribe) follows in the same vein, with much of the album paying tribute to great Americans and American movements. “Oh, Susanna” is a combination love song/soliloquy as sung by a Civil War soldier at Ambrose Bierce’s Owl Creek; “Black Gold” commemorates the oil rush in California’s San Joaquin Valley; the topic for the percussive, rocking “Crazy Horse” chronicles the degradation of the title character’s name; “Satchel’s Fastball” is filled with a young ballplayer’s confidence despite the color line that divided the Negro Leagues from the rest of Major League baseball; and the album’s closing track, “Straight Razor,” focuses on the pride of a hobo claiming his place on a train.
With “Memphis,” Halford conjures up images of music as a dangerous force.
“The wolf, the killer The man in black Wrong side of the railroad tracks Elvis Aaron and Reverend Green Don’t forget about Mr. B.B. King…”
Interspersed between these are songs about life and love, as well as a couple that don’t quite fit into any neat package. On some albums, these might be seen as a distraction. But here, they seem to put the rest of the album into a more personal context. Of particular note is “.44,” a powerful piece about gunfire and mistaken identities.
“I cut 20 songs, then whittled it down to 12 to really have a focus,” Halford says. “I’m certainly hitting on America, the way Americans are, and our history. The things that I love. I write what I’m passionate about.”
Complementing the lyrical American theme is Halford’s music. A blend of folk, blues and rock, with a dash of country and splash of pop, the album comes off sounding comfortable and familiar but at the same time fresh and, in some places, altogether riveting.
There are a lot of critics around the country who are very high on Halford’s powerful and poetic storytelling, as well as the richness of his music. One writer, Buddy Siegal from the Orange County Weekly, got so carried away that he compared Hunkpapa with Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I hear more Dave Alvin than Dylan, but it’s not a bad comparison. Like Dylan, Halford is concerned as much with social issues as with personal considerations; there’s a simmering anger that seems to drive both, and there’s a feeling of desolation that haunts Highway 61 and Hunkpapa as they hit the road in search of America’s soul.
It’s been a couple years since Halford’s been through town (in times past, he played both Blue Fin Billiards and Doc Rickett’s) and obviously he’s matured both as a singer and a songwriter since the release of his first album, Kerosene, in 1999.
SALT LAKE CITY WEEKLY
In other CD release news, San Francisco’s JEFFREY HALFORD & THE HEALERS are on the road promoting the brand-new Hunkpapa (Shoeless Records), probably one of the finest slabs of roots-rock and country-fried blues and soul you’ll hear in this or any other year. Halford is the total package: An engaging singer with razor-sharp guitar chops who writes catchy songs loaded with storied lyricsâ€”it’s almost frightening how good this guy is. Already given an Americana pedestal alongside the likes of John Prine, Alejandro Escobedo and even Bob Dylan by critics and regular folk alike, Halford learned his blues on the “wrong”side of the tracks. “I could go in the black blues clubs in Oakland, and they were always so welcoming and open,”he told the Houston Press. “It was always like ‘Come on in.’ They never had a problem with it. We’re the ones with the problem. It’s so ignorant.”
Halford’s songs come from own experiences
By Scott Iwasaki
Deseret News music editor
Singer/songwriter Jeffrey Halford knew his new album had to be the best he could do. “My last album (‘Kerosene’) was accepted by critics,” Halford said. “So I knew ‘Hunkapapa’ had to do better than that.”
So Halford got down to business and wrote more than 20 songs for the project.
“Out of those, I whittled the list down to 12,” Halford said during a telephone interview from his home in San Francisco. “And I like to think I picked the cream of the crop.”
Halford will celebrate the release of “Hunkapapa” with two Utah gigs this weekend. The first will be on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Dead Goat Saloon, 165 S. West Temple, and the other will be Sunday, Sept. 30, at Cicero’s, 306 Main, Park City. Both venues’ doors will open at 7 p.m.
All of the songs Halford writes come from personal experiences, he said. “I also read a lot of Dylan Thomas, Hemingway and Steinbeck.” Then he added with a laugh, “That’s the best way to write honest songs.
“I like to focus on the lyrical content, and it’s nice to know that some of the subtexts have universal connections â€” childhood, inspiration, sports. I’m on a constant search for the perfect song. And I do know that there is a lot of magic out there.”
Halford said he has many musical inspirations to support his quest. “I lived in Dallas for the first part of my life, and I heard a lot of Roger Miller and Johnny Cash. Then, in 1964, I found myself drawn to the Beatles.”
After his father moved the family to Torrance, Calif., Halford couldn’t help but find the Beach Boys in 1966. “That was a magical time for me. I got into the Buffalo Springfield and worked my way toward the Motown sound and Creedence (Clearwater Revival). All this time my dad was jamming on Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles and Elvis. My mom, on the other hand, was into pop, and I can remember during the ’70s she’d be listening to B.J. Thomas.”
Eventually Halford discovered Led Zeppelin, Leon Russell, Hot Tuna and even Neil Diamond. “I was 16 when I first picked up the guitar. And that’s when I discovered rockabilly. I wanted to do everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to Eddie Cochran to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.”
While Halford was trying to decide what kind of music he wanted to play, the punk rock scene exploded in the late ’70s. “The Dead Kennedys, X, the Blasters. . . . All those bands were basically playing ’50s-style stuff that was just faster. So I thought I could find a way to play my own type of punk, rock, jazz, country, blues and pop with intelligent lyrics.”
Nightlights: Halford, Healers deliver strong lyrics
By Jim Beal San Antonio Express-News
Music is not unimportant. But right now it just doesn’t seem as important as it did a few days ago. Still, as musicians and music fans and most other people on the planet grapple to deal with the events and the aftermath of Sept. 11 it’s plain there’s solace to be found in making and experiencing music.
That Jeffrey Halford chose to name his new album “Hunkpapa,” after one of the bands of the Sioux tribe, sends a clear signal that he and the Healers are a bedrock American band.
From San Francisco by way of Dallas, Halford, a literate, narrative writer and a more-than-fair hand on a slide guitar, writes vivid slices of life about red wagons, guitars, baseball legends, the wages of violence and the perils and pleasures of love. Backed by a rock-solid band, Paul Olguin (bass), Jim Norris (drums) and Rich “Goldie” Goldstein (guitar), Halford delivers those words with a stand-and-deliver fervor.
Tonight Halford and the Healers will pay their second call to Carlsbad Tavern. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Cover is $5.
“I hate describing my music,” Halford said. “But I’ve always been a rock ‘n’ roll fanatic. I’d say I play roots rock that’s bluesy with a dose of pop sensibilities.”
Halford’s parents left Texas for California in 1963. He grew up in and around Oakland, playing on the streets and working in blues bands.
“For me it all comes from the blues, but I didn’t want to play standard blues,” he said. “I hate boundaries and categories and I’ve always been a big fan of the slide guitar.”
Halford has been writing songs about as long as he’s been playing guitar.
“I was writing really bad songs but they had a good spirit,” Halford said with a laugh. “My mom was into Dylan Thomas and I got heavily into poetry, which helped my songwriting. My family history is pretty wild. My father was a late-night storyteller. Writing is a hard job but I’m always searching for a good phrase and the other end is the music. Songs have to have a different groove.
<p”>”The grooves of Halford/Healers range from straight ballads to blues-based mid-tempo tunes to roaring rockers in which the slide guitar simply burns.
“I’ve always been a guitar head but this band is about songs,” Halford said. “The band brings a lot to the music. Some nights my guitar is raging. Sometimes I just get in the groove.”
Like other excellent lyricists, Halford pens words that sometimes stand up without music.
“It depends on what song it is,” Halford said. “For this album, compared to the last one (‘Kerosene’), I said, ‘Jeff, You’re getting too wordy.’ My goal was to keep it nice and simple. I think a good song has to have good lyrics but I don’t want to suck all the fun out of it.”
MILES OF MUSIC
JEFFREY HALFORD – Hunkpapa An “on the road” troubadour, Jeffery Halford takes his listeners from Memphis to the San Joaquin Valley, weaving tales that refer to such American figures as Crazy Horse, Satchel Paige and Ambrose Bierce. It’s “an Edward Hopper scene” – to quote one of his song – that Halford portrays in his vividly detailed tunes. Similar to fellow singer/songwriter Kevin Gordon, Halford sets his songs in a rootsy, bluesy musical setting that can both surge (as on “Black Gold”) or ease down (“Small Craft Advisory”, for example). Chuck Prophet and gospel vocal group the Dixie Hummingbirds number among Halford’s Hunkpapa guests. (Shoeless)
From whence came Jeffrey Halford? His PR sheet is slight, and he has almost zero presence on the Web. He looks real fresh-faced, a fact at odds with his music, which bespeaks many years of hard experience, a world-weariness you don’t usually encounter from songwriters until they get deep into being grown-ups and realize that life is often a pretty grave pain in the ass after all.
Halford is an artist who emerges fully formed on Hunkapapa, his second album. It teems with refined musical instincts often masquerading as anarchic racket and lyrics brimming with dark-hued images and wizened metaphors worthy of Studs Terkel. He sings of American heroes and roustabouts; B.B. King, Al Green, Crazy Horse and Satchel Paige share the same terrain as hobos, oil miners and Halford himself, in search of America much in the manner of Kerouac and Cassady in On the Road, Fonda and Hopper in Easy Rider, and Bruce Springsteen in Nebraska.
In this respect, I must place a curse on poor young Halford’s head and pose the dreaded Dylan analogy; not just any Dylan analogy, mind you, but a Highway 61 Revisited-era Dylan analogy, with all the tenderness and pissed-off-ness and poetically harsh guitar-and-drums cacophony coming together as great rock & roll that implies.
Let me also assert that Jeffrey Halford is one mean sumbitch of a guitar player. His slide work soars and dodges and makes unexpected turns in all the right places, betraying a pop sense that would seem at odds with the hard-blues roots of the method if he didn’t bring these disparate worlds together so seamlessly. You will hum these tunes. His rhythmic sense is impeccable; his playful syncopations suggest an apparent familiarity with West African jujuman Ali Farka Toure. As for his vocals, I’ll hammer the kid with another Zimmerman whammy: his nasal, oddly pitchy style is an Ode to Bob, but when coupled with Halford’s unique style, it comes off as subconscious tribute rather than blatant imitation.
In summation, today I am here to prematurely place Jeffrey Halford up on a pedestal with such fogies as Dave Alvin, John Fogerty, Randy Newman, Alejandro Escovedo, John Prineâ€”and Bob Dylanâ€”in the pantheon of great American singer/songwriters, all apparently before he’s seen the first gray hairs appear in his soul patch.
When the BANGLES re-formed last summer, I celebrated. Perhaps the most fully realized of all jangle-pop groups to emerge from LA’s so-called ’80s “Paisley Underground,” the goily-goils got killed off by tremendous and unexpected commercial success right as they seemed to reach their creative apex (gallivanting about with Prince and selling fuckzillions of records does have a way of decimating street cred and breeding arrogance/creative complacency in any artist, really). Yet, contrary to the opinions of their many detractors, the Bangles were always more than jiggling, high-gloss cheesecake pinups like the Go-Go’s. These gals could sing, play, and write; most of all, these gals could rock. In concert, I’ve seen the same group that proffered such sweet, folk-rock fare as “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like an Egyptian” tear into a song with all the muscle of Mott the Hoopleâ€”and have the good taste to do so on covers by the Rutles, no less.
Yet let us not ignore the Bangles’ well-known harmonic wonderfulness: as pop beauty and sophistication have nearly vanished from the airwaves in the past 10 years or so, those old Bangles hits sound fresher ‘n’ purtier than ever. Echoes of the Mamas & Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Lovin’ Spoonful reverberated in that gorgeous blending of voices and those velveteen arrangements; who among us can find fault with those qualities while listening to critics hail Kid Rock (instead of Jeffrey Halford) as the New Dylan. The Bangles appear at the Taste of Newport fete on Saturday night; I say welcome back, but I also wanna know when the new album they keep promising will appear.
If you know anything about stamps, you know there is no better place for a crash course in American history than in the offerings from the doughty old United States Postal Service. These gummy issues document our political leaders, our victories, the rise and fall of various technologies (some early Express mail was carried by blimp, which briefly superseded some trains, which superseded ponies), our great artists, athletes, authors, activists and warriors. Our natural beauty is also celebrated in stamps, as are campaigns against evils like AIDS today and polio once upon a time. A nation wears its soul in the top right corner of its letters.
Good Americana music should sound the way a well-tended collection of American stamps looks. Songs should be as enduring and iconic as an old one-cent bust of Ben Franklin affixed to the corner of a yellowing letter from bygone times. It should commemorate the places, people and things that make this country great, and excoriate those that don’t.
San Francisco-based guitarist/songwriter Jeffrey Halford follows this approach in his bluesy folk-tinged rock. On Hunkpapa, his third CD, Halford sings the praises of past glories (“Crazy Horse,” “Satchel’s Fastball”) and bemoans present wrongs, such as the easy availability of the eponymous pistol in “.44.” Perhaps his most finely wrought lyrics are on “Black Gold,” in which Halford explores the past, present and future of the San Joaquin Valley.
“That was the breadbasket for America, the whole world,” he says in a phone interview. “At one time there was more oil coming out of there than even in Texas. But I just drove through there a while back, and it was all gone and every town was propped up by some giant prison.” Or as he puts it in song, the “men caked in black as the gushers roar” had been replaced by “prisoners housed in penitentiaries / Grey gold another kind of crop.”
To Halford, prisoners are not just some black sheep shunted around by the state. He’s interested in how they got there, which he explores on “.44.” In the song — of which the press material rightfully predicts that Charlton Heston won’t be a fan — Halford disputes the old guns-don’t-kill-people/people-kill- people saw. Transformed by the power of a pistol’s heft, a mild-mannered preacher’s son buys the weapon and then smokes somebody with it over a trifle. The Magnum hijacked the young man’s personality.
Halford is not antigun per se, but one gets the idea that he concurs with Steve Earle about the Devil’s Right Hand and Ronnie Van Zant about Saturday Night Specials. “I’ve always wanted to take a Springfield out in a field and do the Gunsmoke thingâ€¦But I’m just really talking about the inner city. Guns in the city and guns in the country are two completely different things.”
Born in Dallas, the son of a communications executive who had a problem with authority (irate at one silent partner’s sloth, Halford senior once quit a high-paying job), Halford estimates that he changed schools ten times. The family careened from Texas to Vancouver and back and forth and in and around Northern and Southern California. Halford clearly is not afraid to be on the move these days either, as his tour of 15 western cities in 18 days attests.
Halford’s childhood was good preparation for the musical life. Tom Russell and Townes Van Zandt are but two other songwriters whose childhoods were migratory, and Halford believes there are few better ways to bring up an Americana musician. Frequent moves acquaint kids with a sense of place, if for no other reason than they are exposed to many of them. It can also be said that we don’t truly know what is essential about a place until we leave. James Joyce wrote his Dublin epics in Zurich. Ernest Hemingway wrote his Michigan-based Nick Adams tales in Paris. Mark Twain wrote his great stories of Mississippi River life from his adopted New England home.
In Halford’s family, there was also lots of drinking in the grand, mid-20th-century American Empire manner, when stiff cocktails flowed like light beer does today, and “can I freshen that up for you?” was the national motto. Halford resists labels like “alcoholic” and “dysfunctional” in describing his family. “Words like that just put these horrible labels on things,” he says. “What matters is that they gave me a lot of love.”
Peripatetic kids also learn not to fear what others do, and also how to adapt. Halford has never had any qualms about crossing the tracks to hear the blues, and in fact some of his best times were in Oakland blues joints full of African-American former Houstonians. “They were also so open,” he recalls. “I could go in the black blues clubs in Oakland, and they were always so welcoming and open. It was always like ‘Come on in.’ They never had a problem with it; the same with the Mexicans, too, they’re very much like that. We’re the ones with the problem. It’s so ignorant.”
To capture some of that Oak-town soul, Halford called on the city’s legendary Gospel Hummingbirds. These ‘birds know a thing or two about the blues, as testified by their two albums on the Blind Pig label, and here they swell majestically behind Halford on his paean to “Memphis,” as well as on “Black Gold” and “Satchel’s Fastball.”
“Bringing in those guys was super-cool ’cause I always loved that gospel-style rock and roll like Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and the Staples Singers, of course,” Halford gushes. “So we got ’em all together at one of their houses in this funky part of Oakland. I just got out my acoustic guitar and threw out my ideas, and they just grabbed that shit. Man, they just killed it. The hair rose on my arms and head.”
The Hummingbirds are at their most glorious on “Satchel’s Fastball,” Halford’s study of an aging minor leaguer. “They say time’s running out on me / As dog days turn to fall / I know that I can hit Satchel’s fastball,” Halford roars over the swelling gospelers and his own rip-roaring slide ResoLectric guitar. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to learn more, to wonder why a guy would spend so much time convincing himself that if given the chance, he could send Satchel’s heater to the cheap seats. It’s like a black-and-white snapshot of a bygone time, a picture that captures the soul of an era, pasted in the pages of a musty album.
But then Satchel Paige was enough of a legend to transcend mere family photo albums. He belongs in our nation’s photo album, which is another way to see our stamps. Jeffrey Halford may not be a philatelist, but his story-songs can serve as a sort of audible stamp collection, sagas of America that can stand for all time