Anyone familiar with the work of Pokey LaFarge will tell you that his music is deeply rooted in the music of the past, think the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, before rock got to rolling, when pop on the radio mingled jazz, country and lots of American roots music with their melodic pop. While the timbre of LaFarge’s tenor voice and choice to shape his own music in the vein of that era, has led to comparisons to Jimmy Rogers (but thankfully doesn’t yodel), LaFarge is not a novelty act trying to live in an earlier time, rather he has adopted these musical reference points for his current musical statements. LaFarge built a name for himself when he and his band, The South City Three, collaborated with Jack White and then recorded for Third Man Records. This tenth album was recorded when LaFarge’s 2020 tour supporting Rock Bottom Rhapsody went belly-up due to the pandemic, and the singer/songwriter continued doing what singer/songwriters tend to do: write and record music.
Either written solo or with his best friend and collaborator Nicholas Johnson Africano or with his producer Chris Seefried, LaFarge may sound like he’s writing for the era embraced and carried into the modern music consciousness by artists like Leon Redbone, but his lyrics speak to this unique existential moment, even if the musical setting feels nostalgic and from a long bygone time. As he declares at the end of the album’s closing number, “Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever),” “It’s the end of the night, it’s the end of the show, it could even be the end of the world as we know, so let’s get together and sing this song like it may be the last,” which echoes the lyric’s point that “If we’re the last ones on earth/The last voices we hear/Cheers to our memories/Hey, nothing says goodbye like a stiff drink and a tear.” So, if our worst fears from the pandemic had been realized, a virus that kills off all of humanity, LaFarge has delivered a record to sing along with on our culture’s last stand.
While LaFarge and Seefried embrace the sonic tones of that pre-World War II era, with bright guitar sounds, brushes on the snare for the jazz influenced back beat, and the tinkling of keyboards, the tempos feel alive and vibrant. While that lyrical fatalism is there from the start – in the set opener “Get It ‘Fore It’s Gone,” LaFarge sings “I’m going to live life just like a butterfly/It’s here today then kiss the world goodbye/… People are dying, friends are far away, later is always too late’ – the song doubles as a call to live fully in every moment you are given. In the meantime, and these are mean times, LaFarge takes comfort in siesta lovemaking with his ideal woman in “Mi Ideal,” which embraces a tropical feel, as does the tango rhythm of “To Love Or Be Alone,” and the nylon string guitar recalling the island breezes in “Yo-Yo.” On “Fine To Me” there’s more than a hint of early rock & roll in the slide guitar and bouncing piano chords that recall Johnnie Johnson’s playing with Chuck Berry, and it also shows up in the call & response vocals and lilting piano of “Killing Time,” and the sophisticated echo on the electric guitar in the urban claps of “Rotterdam.”
Pokey LaFarge’s embrace of earlier musical influences proves must fun for those who appreciate pop and rock’s jazzier roots, and more vintage sounds, but for all it’s novelty and nostalgia the songs themselves speak to our current moment with an intelligent wit, and a certain devil-may-care attitude that can provide a momentary uplift in the challenging times of the world as we know it. You may want to pause and enjoy the scent In the Blossom of Their Shade while you can, we don’t know what tomorrow holds.
Key Tracks: “Fine To Me” / “To Love Or Be Alone” / “Killing Time”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Carolina Chocolate Drops / Leon Redbone / Old Crow Medicine Show
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