Pokey LaFarge’s self-styled image as dusty old troubadour extends even to his name, a handle that sounds borrowed from a freight train-hopping, dustbowl-era storyteller of a certain Woody Guthrie vintage. Eight albums on, he’s done little to alter that perception, thanks to a sound that traces its roots to the back porches of America’s heartland. From the sly saunter of opening track “Riot in the Streets” to the vampish “Mother Nature,” LaFarge and his feisty six piece band sound like refugees from the roadhouse circuit, all sass and swagger with plenty of juke jump energy to spare.
There is a certain irony in all this, however. “Pokey” was a nickname bestowed on him by his mother, who said her son moved too slowly. Consequently there’s a certain playfulness and jest underscoring the band’s delivery, a wink and a nod that suggests that even when he’s making overtures to his lady love — the soulful strut “Must Be a Reason” being a prime example — affection and intention are wholly in sync. He has his licks down alright; a song like “Better Man Than Me” sounds like a vintage soul classic right from the get go. The band’s performances sound so infectious in fact, one gets the sense that Pokey has the poise and personality to give someone like Bruno Mars a good run for his money.
Still, Manic Revelations—its exclamatory title aside—isn’t simply some trendy pop record. While the cool groove of “Silent Movie” and the catchy, contagious “Good Luck Charm” might have once qualified for ongoing airplay on Top 40 radio, it’s far more organic than any of the prefab productions that dominate the airwaves these days. The backing horns and sprightly pacing keep the music sounding effortless and bewitching, a traditional approach that’s been part of LaFarge and his namesake band’s signature sound. It’s a delivery that’s trusty and road tested, with the savvy naturally ingrained in a seasoned band of nomadic troubadours. Simply listen to a track like “Wellington,” a brassy road song that celebrates that wayward attitude, and it’s all easy to understand why.
Here again, that image of the wandering minstrel remains unshaken. Pokey LaFarge’s message is simple. Honest, effusive expression is as basic to the American musical vocabulary as poetic narratives and late night hoedowns. Indeed, LaFarge and friends’ unaffected sentiment is as honest as it comes.