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Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge – 2013 (Third Man)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Pokey LaFarge

Although Pokey LaFarge is a relatively young 30 years old, his songwriting soul is as old as a Victrola crank. In the past seven years and across seven albums, LaFarge has paid homage to the American music that caught his ear as a teenager (hot jazz, swing, country blues and Appalachian folk), not with an idolator's slavish heart, but with the nervy spirit of an innovator. In the same way that Jim Mathus absorbed similar influences and churned out clearly referential and yet completely original sounds with Squirrel Nut Zippers and on his own, so too has LaFarge hammered old time music into scintillating new shapes.

On his eponymous eighth album and second for Jack White's Third Man label, LaFarge and his team of time-traveling tunesmiths push the same buttons that earned consecutive Independent Music Awards for Best Americana Album for 2010's "Riverboat Soul" and 2011's "Middle of Everywhere." With a warbling croon that suggests Phil Alvin channeling Rudy Vallee, LaFarge writes and performs with an absolutely authentic sense of history and a totally singular creative spirit, resulting in laconic jazz interludes (What the Rain Will Bring), hot swing blues (The Devil Ain't Lazy, (Bowlegged Woman) and mountain country hoedowns (One Town at a Time) that all bear the unmistakable birthmarks of songs from three quarters of a century ago while maintaining a stomping foot in the here and now. Pokey LaFarge doesn't transport himself to a bygone era to make his music, he kicks that era all the way into the 21st century and makes the antique sounds of yesteryear as relevant as the latest iPhone app.