Release Date: Jun 4, 2013
Record label: Third Man Records
Singer/songwriter Pokey LaFarge can be as bluegrass as Bill Monroe, as country as Johnny Cash and as folk as Bob Dylan. In contemporary references, the nearly-30-year-old is as much of a traditionalist as the Carolina Chocolate Drops or Luke Winslow-King. And on his self-titled release—his debut on Jack White’s Third Man Records—LaFarge blends these musical styles better than ever before.
Six years after Pokey LaFarge released his first full length, Marmalade, his star has risen. Signed by the highly respected Third Man Records to release his self-titled album after having already cut a 45 for them two years ago, he brings a brand of music he calls “Riverboat Soul,” apt for an artist who calls St. Louis home. The musicianship exhibited on Pokey LaFarge is impeccable, a credit to producer Ketch Secor’s (Old Crow Medicine Show) deft hand and ear.
Sometimes artists create a stage persona that is far and away opposite from their true essence. Pokey Lafarge couldn’t be further from that relationship, even though his true essence couldn’t be further from present space and time. Deeply rooted in old time country-blues heard on the banks of the Mississippi in the 1920s and 30s, Pokey’s passion for his music spills over into his being, as he pointedly points out in the opening track ‘Central Time’.
Phrenology is a discredited pseudo-science. But St Louis guitar and banjo player Pokey LaFarge has the jug ears and high forehead of a homespun 1920s musician, the kind of bone structure that chimes harmoniously with the vintage sounds of his latest album, released on Jack White's label. Ragtime and country, jazz and swing; all swirl together on this collection of expertly formed roots nuggets.
Unrepentantly old-school, with a nasal vibrato that can recall Jack White's, this 30-year-old is a perfect fit for the re-formed White Stripe's label. LaFarge taps into Western swing, Twenties jazz and country blues, with hot brass, banjo, lap steel and fiddle, making virtuosic artisanal pop that's less Mumford & Sons than Squirrel Nut Zippers. "Home Away From Home," an ode to Louisville, pairs cornet and clarinet with Louis Armstrong Hot Five flavor, and the similarly jazzy blues "What the Rain Will Bring" aims for timeless rather than retro: When LaFarge sings "Back in old '93/The Mississippi had her way with me," he means the 20th-century flood.