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Pokey LaFarge

Rock Bottom Rhapsody – 2020 (New West)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Pokey LaFarge

Pokey La Farge is best described as a musical archivist in every sense of the term. He and his band were described by one source as "artfully dodgy ambassadors for old-time music, presenting and representing the glories of hot swing, early jazz and ragtime blues" who have "made riverboat chic cool again," and indeed, they live up to that description. They recreate the kind of aural imagery that takes their listeners back in time to an earlier era of decades past when America's freewheeling lifestyle found society folks frequenting gambling joints, honky tonks, pool parlors, bars and bordellos. It was a psyche that furthered the notion it was best to be footloose and fancy free, with sounds that supplied the soundtrack for a reckless and risqué approach to living life while basking in a lifestyle of fun and frenzy.

"Rock Bottom Rhapsody" effectively sums up those sentiments through a selection of songs that's both casual and carefree. Kicking off with a small stringed symphony, the content is nevertheless blithe and breezy throughout, yet both sly and sophisticated in its attempt at authenticity. The random shuttle that sparks "End of My Rope," the sway and swing taken in tandem on "Rock Me Up," the stomp and sway found in "Fallen Angel," and the jaunty delivery of "Bluebird" prove their prowess. Likewise, when LaFarge affects a caressing croon for "Just the Same" and adds an elegiac touch to the twilight tempo of "Lucky Sometimes," it's easy to imagine him donning tails and top hat to captivate a cabaret crowd.

On the other hand, LaFarge also taps into a teen scene that once flourished in the fifties. "Storm-A-Comin'," "Ain't Coming' Home" and "Lucky Sometimes" sound as if they were plucked from the Happy Days jukebox after The Fonz slams it with his fist in hopes of hearing some of his favorites. Ultimately then, this "Rock Bottom Rhapsody" is something of a mixed bag, but one that notches up the nostalgia factor while mining its universal appeal.

Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.