I read the news today. Oh boy. Not Pokey La Farge. He knows that it’s all bad, even when it’s not awful. That doesn’t mean LaFarge doesn’t stay current. Several songs on the Missouri denizen’s latest release, Manic Revelations, concern topical subjects such as riots in the street, the dangers of city life, and such. He would just prefer to live in a place where he doesn’t have to hear the noise.
So LaFarge preaches the benefits of observing modern life as it if were a “Silent Movie” and the advantages of “Going to the Country”. This message is reinforced by him and his band’s (the Southside Collective) old-time musical style that hearkens back to a lost and mythical America of love. They employ everything from a guitjo, trumpet, euphonium, tubax, piano, saxophone, bass, clarinet, flute, and glockenspiel to electric guitars, drums, and percussion to create a vibrant and often brassy mix that would sound equally at home at a Harlem rent party as a small-town barn dance.
The ten original tracks evoke familiar songs from yesterday without being derivative or retro. Much of the credit belongs to LaFarge’s distinctive voice. He croons as if employing a megaphone à la Rudy Vallée, but LaFarge has no need for a prop. LaFarge loudly and clearly annunciates his lyrics as if singing into an ancient microphone with limited amplification. He’s more Bing Crosby than Frank Sinatra. He accents the subtleties of nuance and inflection to make sure you hear them.
This allows LaFarge to employ word play as an essential part of the music. He croons lines that refer to each other in creative ways so that what begins with a lyric such as “Use what Mother Nature gave you / ‘Til Father Time takes it away” turns into “Who knew that being a woman was a crime?” without any gaps in logic. The honky-tonk accompaniment keeps things sexy without being explicit.
The music here is upbeat. Even when LaFarge complains about not being a better man so he can win the love of a certain woman, he does so doo-wop style. The street corner modulations suggest he actually could improve if he really wanted to, but is she really worth the effort? Maybe he’s better off with a woman better matched to his bad qualities. He sings about such females that maybe aren’t so good on other cuts such as “Bad Dream” and “Must Be a Reason”. He may be a fool, and that makes him perfect for a crazy girl.
LaFarge has explained that the album’s title Manic Revelations takes its name from the state of mind he and the band feel when generating music. It’s what happens when the muse hits and the creative juices start flowing as if by magic. That may be true, but the term also applies well to an audience who finds unexpected riches in these songs whose surface may seem to offer familiar tropes. It’s like finding a four-leaf clover in a field of grass. One may not have to search very hard to find a “Good Luck Charm”, as LaFarge sings in a song by that name, but it takes a wise prospector to realize what one has and employ it.