In the Blossom of Their Shade is Pokey LaFarge‘s seventh studio solo album. It bears all the hallmarks of his distinctive style that combines mid-20th-century country, R&B, and pop with exotic flourishes. The music rambles and rumbles like an old jalopy that always gets where it’s going with style. It’s vintage stuff that never sounds old as much as ripe and ready for cruising.
In Pokey’s universe, even a busy commercial city like “Rotterdam” comes off as a tranquil paradise. The Netherland town provides a welcome refuge from an America “where things get worse each day”. The song may have been written during the recent pandemic, but it’s timeless in its concern about where the present is headed. The singer-songwriter has no illusions. The Earth is coming to an end. He just wants to watch it burn from another land than the one he was born. And if anywhere is safe, it’s that town in the Holland of his imagination. Pokey croons his affection for the place in a creaky voice to the beat of bongos and guitar lines that would be right at home in Cinemascope Western movie. The bizarre is the new reality.
LaFarge’s mix of esoteric styles takes him all over the planet, from the doo-wop city streets of big cities to the tropical climate of the Caribbean. In songs like “Killing Time”, he puts the different elements on the same plate but leaves them as separate items the way one does at a salad bar. One of the pleasures of listening to Pokey’s plate is identifying the individual sonic pieces and hearing how well he recreates them in new contexts. The acapella vocals behind his singing on “Killing Time” would perfectly fit a single from the Philadelphia ‘hood 50 years ago. Here it’s mixed with tinkling South American piano dance music and a steady drum and bass beat. The nonsensical lyrics (“I made a tugboat fly / I made a python crawl / I’m so cold I turned summer into fall”) just add to the fanciful song’s charm.
While the songs on In the Blossom of Their Shade may refer to such things as the world conflagrations or wasting one’s life, Pokey delivers the material with upbeat confidence. He continually sings in an affirmative, self-possessed tone, frequently about love. He knows nothing is certain in this world and professes that he can’t decide whether to “Love or to Be Alone”. But Pokey keeps on returning to the theme of finding true romance. He often puts this in a larger context. He’s looking for God or a positive reason to live (i.e., “put your heart in the Bible”). Yet the answer to his uncertainty repeatedly lies in the arms of another human being. “Paradise at my fingertips,” he sings about his paramour. It doesn’t get any better than that.
This album was initially called “Siesta Love” because of its Spanish musical tropes (calypso, flamenco) and affirmative messages about amour. The new title comes from the song “Mi Ideal” where he croons about a “slow and easy” love in both English and Spanish; not to mention he throws in a few “la la las” in the mix for breeziness. As the Delfonics taught us long ago, “La La Means I Love You”, but one doesn’t need a past reference to understand Pokey’s meaning. He’s joyful after not being happy for so long. We might have all been dwelling in the shade instead of the sun, but we can blossom because of the feelings we have inside, especially if we can find someone with whom to share them.