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Pokey LaFarge

Manic Revelations – 2017 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Pokey LaFarge

A good many musical artists are looking for a hot new trend to champion, but Pokey LaFarge's only interest from the beginning of his career has been to bring a fresh perspective to folk, blues and soul with a swingy, jazzy, poppy undercurrent. Over the past decade and a half, LaFarge's sound and the band that helps him create it has evolved at a pace that reinforces the childhood nickname that he has adopted as his stage persona. That shouldn't be construed as a criticism; LaFarge seems to have been working the long game all along, and it's paid off handsomely, first with his 2012 collaboration on "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep" for Jack White's "Blunderbuss" album, then his 2015 debut for Rounder, "Something in the Water," and finally his sophomore release for the label, "Manic Revelations."

Now on his seventh studio album with "Manic Revelations," LaFarge's band has grown to a six-piece, and his sonic ambitions have widened considerably from his hitchhiking busker days. In much the same way that Amy Winehouse and James Hunter brought a contemporary sensibility to vintage blues and soul, LaFarge has found a way to reinterpret old genres in ways that accentuate their authenticity while injecting them with contemporary energy.

"Manic Revelations" kicks off with the rousing "Riot in the Streets," a smoking, horn-driven '60s slow burn soul rave up, followed by the equally impassioned Motown update of "Must Be a Reason" and the doo wop handstand of "Better Man Than Me." On "Silent Movie," LaFarge proves that he understands the modern pop aesthetic, but only insofar as it intersects with his mission statement, while "Good Luck Charm" sounds like a lost Johnny Horton track that's been unearthed and restored, but detailed with new millennium technology. While there's nothing on "Manic Revelations" that inspires dropped jaw surprise, LaFarge and his band seem to be swimming in deeper water that ever before, and that makes it his best to date.