It’s to Jimmy LaFave's credit that all his past accomplishments might just as easily be shuffled aside simply to accommodate a dedicated listen to The Night Tribe.
It’s one thing to emulate your influences. It’s quite another to take those musical strains and weave them through your own sound to make past and present intertwine. An able multi-tasker, Jimmy LaFave took his admiration for Woody Guthrie and turned it into an homage of sorts that resulted in a star-studded album and tour entitled Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway as well as ongoing participation as an advisory board member for the annual Woody Guthrie Music Festival. Equally as impressive, he founded his own record company, Music Road Records, which has not only fostered his own more recent releases but those of other artists. The label’s 2014 tribute to Jackson Browne,Looking Into You notched up his accomplishments even further.
Of course that doesn’t even include LaFave’s own offerings which now include some 17 releases dating back to 1979. Then there are the various accolades he’s accumulated over the years, among them the kudos bestowed on him by the Americana Music Association and the Kerrville Folk Festival, not to mention the praises offered by critics and contemporaries. If there’s any artist worthy of discovery by the broader masses, LaFave is certainly among them.
It’s to his credit that all those past accomplishments might just as easily be shuffled aside simply to accommodate a dedicated listen to The Night Tribe, LaFave’s excellent new album. As always, it consolidates his strengths and his astute ability to seamlessly integrate his original material with carefully selected covers that flawlessly retain the same style and sound. It’s inspiring to say the least, whether he’s winding his way through vintage terrain (the Van Morrison-sounding opener “The Beauty of You”, the weary, ragged title track, deep soul ballads like “Island” and “It’s Not on Me”), or interpreting well-etched standards like Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” or Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” through his own signature sound.
Each and all resonate with the same earnest intent, a heartfelt homage to both his Oklahoma roots and the heartland heritage that nurtured that ambition so early on. For all those obvious influences, LaFave’s sound – his vocals in particular -- most often recall another long time troubadour, Steve Forbert. It’s a combined croak and ache, a comparison especially obvious on “Maybe”, easily among the most memorable songs of the set. The insistent refrain – “Maybe I can take you home / Maybe we can fall in love…” – finds that resolute chorus reverberating through the subconscious well before the tune comes to an end.
Clearly, Jimmy LaFave has crafted his masterpiece, although the same might have been said of several of his other releases up until this point. According to LaFave’s own liner notes, The Night Tribe is a tribute to those who inhabit the after-hours – “the all night waitresses, the 24-hour truck stop attendant, the after midnight radio host… creative, restless insomniacs up all hours of the night searching for the truth.” Whether or not that truth is uncovered here is a matter of conjecture. However, credit The Night Tribe for shedding a little bit of light.