Whether Pokey LaFarge's seventh album, "Something in the Water," could be called more than "retro" is a stretch. The St. Louis musician's 21st century talent shows through his performance, compositions and writing, but some things work against him in his fight to make the album timeless.
LaFarge covers a handful of genres that make him seem unsettled rather than well-rounded - like he can't pick just one. Jazzy numbers like "Underground" and "Knockin' the Dust Off the Rust Belt Tonight" send listeners into a 1930s swing club, while "Cairo, Illinois" tunes them into a Prairie Home Companion radio hour with its melancholy country sound.
All songs are enjoyable from this perspective, but when stitched together they make the album seem like a tribute to the genres of old. If he had sticked to one style alone, LaFarge could have made a better case for showing how the swing jazz of the '30s, country ballads of the '40s or honky tonk love songs of the '50s can still find a place in modern listeners' iTunes libraries. Instead, the LaFarge Delorean whiplashes between time periods without much direction.
Some of LaFarge's lyrics are firmly planted back in time, however. "She drinks malt liquor for both lunch and dinner and sends me running scared. She yells, she screams and she beats me, but I don't mind the way she treats me...but I stay with her just the same," he sings in "Something in the Water." The snappy and kitschy tune sends the whole thing back to the days when a woman smacking around her man (or vice versa) was slapstick, not domestic abuse.
Although it doesn't fulfill its promise of being timeless as much as nostalgic, "Something in the Water" is a good album with not only quality songs ("Knockin' the Dust" and honky tonk love song "Wanna Be Your Man" are standout tracks), but also outstanding engineering. Those opting to have LaFarge on their iPods rather than their turntables won't be disappointed, as the old-style sound mixing replicates the balance of a vinyl record, with LaFarge's vocals standing out from the rest of the banjos, horns, drums and backups.
Be cautious that "Something in the Water" plays the part of a relic rather than a prophet - but that doesn't make it any less worthy of kicked-up heels or country radio daydreaming.