by Tarik Moody
Pokey LaFarge’s new self-titled album released through Jack White’s Third Man records most definitely perpetuates the artist’s signature acoustic american roots sound that harkens back to the blues and country artists of the early twentieth century. While unorthodox, it’s a style that the singer/songwriter effectively pulls off, especially with a record that’s co-produced by Old Crow Medicine Show frontman Ketch Secor. But, he also has a lot of help from the talented South City Three, who back him up perfectly.
First off, ol’ Pokey has a wonderful tenor voice. It really is reminiscent of those old time country singers, and he has this really interesting vibrato that’s as fast as machine gun fire but not nearly as grating as that sounds. It’s actually kind of beautiful. And when that South City Three come in and harmonize with him, it only gets better. But this backing band can do a lot more than just sing as they really help to drive LaFarge’s rhythms along and elevate them beyond just some catchy tune. Most notably, Ryan Koening offers up some sick mouth organ, including some impressive solos on “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” and “Won’tcha Please Don’t Do It,” when he’s not scraping the washboard. But Joey Glynn’s upright bass and Adam Hoskins’s steel guitar shouldn’t go unnoticed. Each adds something that truly rounds out the songs they’re featured in and gives them a lot more analyzable detail than would be found otherwise
LaFarge has also added a cornet and clarinet player in TJ Muller and Chloe Feoranzo respectively to his troupe of musicians on this outing that work to severely increase the musical variety of the record. Although, there is a moment on “What the Rain Will Bring” where these two instruments have layered solos that I don’t really understand as I feel that it’s just a bit more distracting than complementary. Furthermore, there’s some mystery lady vocalists on that song as well as on “City Summer Blues” that don’t disappoint at all and really tug at those male heartstrings.
The songs on this album have a nice thematic range. From thinking about what makes home great in “Central Time,” to talking about the experience of traveling across the country on “One Town at a Time,” to the song about a sweetheart on “Kentucky Mae,” to even the perils of a capitalistic medical industry on “Close the Door,” it’s possible to find a little bit of everything.
Mr. LaFarge’s music definitely isn’t for everybody considering it is admittedly pretty archaic. Yet, there is still some solid musicianship to be witness to. So for that reason alone, I would suggest to anybody looking for something a bit different in the acoustic realm to give this record a listen.