Album Review: Pokey LaFarge, ‘Something in the Water’
Retro -- it’s a word that has dogged Pokey LaFarge ever since his 2006 self-released debut, Marmalade, and it’s evident why. While plenty of Americana artists wear their influences on their sleeves, LaFarge seems to somehow embody them in a way that goes a step beyond. The St. Louis-hailing singer-songwriter’s catalog transports listeners to another era rather than sounding like some new-fangled hybrid genre that has spliced together the music that birthed it. In this way, LaFarge is a purist, but that’s by no means to say he hasn’t created something wholly new and entirely listenable with his most recent full-length, Something in the Water.
In the past, LaFarge has seemed put off by his work being over-simplified as “retro,” and understandably so. Nevertheless, this is an artist who actively strives to disassociate from the modern music landscape, which is increasingly amorphous in an almost necessitated response to the technology that has afforded us instant gratification for just about anything we could want. LaFarge seems acutely aware of this.
“I don’t think we have an identity in America anymore,” LaFarge recently said in an interview. “I don’t know if we ever will again. Things move so fast and change so quickly. Some things you look at and say, ‘That’s ‘40s or ‘50s,’ but what can you say is 2015? You can’t. In two weeks, there will be something completely new.”
As such, LaFrage’s sixth album, Something in the Water, evokes a time long gone, almost with a tinny quality that makes the album’s 12 tracks sound like they’re reaching listeners through the kind of radio that once acted as the home’s gathering spot for nightly entertainment.
The album flits from one piece of American music history to the next. “Wanna Be Your Man” is a simple profession of desire set to squealing horns and ragtime-era piano. “Underground,” on the other hand, favors the singer’s jazz and blues tendencies. LaFarge also closes the album on that note with the joyous “Knockin’ the Dust Off the Rust Belt Tonight.”
“All Night Long” and “When Did You Leave Heaven” are actually extracted straight from the canon – the former is LaFarge’s rendition of the classic Tampa Red and the Chicago Five tune, while the latter is the Big Bill Broonzy blues standard.
Of course, LaFarge also touches on his classic country roots. The album’s title track and opener embraces Western swing, as does the sorrowful lament on the dangers of love, “Far Away.”
However, Something in the Water isn’t an exercise in nostalgia.
Most of us essentially live on our devices -- it’s where we keep our music, photos, conversations, and it’s all constantly in jeopardy of disappearing in a blink of an eye. LaFarge expressly rejects these concepts; he’s not interested in the fleeting sounds that dominate the public conscious. He responds with music that may outwardly seem backward-looking, but is actually a means of creating something both new, but more importantly, lasting.