Since he started recording in 2006, American roots musician Pokey LaFarge has put his armoury of talents and exemplary work ethic on full display, yielding an impressive collection of music that draws inspiration from a range of contemporary American song traditions. Marrying features of early jazz, and ragtime, with country, blues, Western swing, and beyond, LaFarge tells vivid narratives with distinctive musical expression. He continues this prolific and communicative output with his seventh album, and Rounder debut, Something in The Water.
The title track and album opener showcases LaFarge’s passion for women and swinging country-gospel, as the musician’s shaking vibrato lends itself perfectly to this timeless Midwestern love affair. There are too many wry one-liners to count, but the most outstanding, and perhaps provocative, is LaFarge’s claim that his woman “does her makeup and hair / to cook fried chicken in her underwear”.
Wanna Be Your Man is a ragtime track that struts right on by with a perfect amount of cheek and swagger, before Underground marches in with a trudging chorus of male singers, and infectious jazz ensemble. LaFarge adds a bit of the ‘exotic’ to traditional Americana with the evocative ballad Goodbye Barcelona, while returns to country-blues with the traipsing Cairo, Illinois and the crushing but resentful Far Away, has he asks the world “where have all the good girls gone?” The quickstep of Bad Girl provides the perfect companion to Far Away, in which LaFarge returns to the theme of women, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, “You can try your best to behave / But I know you have the devil inside of you.”
LaFarge also includes his buoyant interpretations of two popular blues standards on Something In The Water, before closing the charming album with a swinging and seemingly unstoppable number Knocking The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight. The only danger, however, of participating in such a strong and historical music tradition is the risk of being defined as a curio act. LaFarge treads a fine line between novelty and a serious search for musical respectability, but there’s no denying that Something In The Water is both curiously endearing, while retaining an emotional and musical sincerity, which could be lost amongst the novelty of other similar artists.