Pokey LaFarge 2024
Photo: Fabian Fioto / New West Records

Pokey LaFarge Invites Us to Dance for Our Lives on ‘Rhumba Country’

There’s a joyful element to Pokey LaFarge’s Rhumba Country that may be found in the Lord’s spirit, the pleasure of bouncy rhythms, or the magic of making music.

Rhumba Country
Pokey LaFarge
New West
10 May 2024

The ten tracks on Pokey LaFarge‘s new album Rhumba Country all sway to tropical rhythms and the rhumba beat from which the LP gets its title. The term “rhumba” itself is amorphous enough to include a variety of styles. The songs here are all danceable but different enough from each other to keep the listener attentive as well as on their feet.

For the most part, LaFarge’s narrators keep on moving, from “So long Chicag-o-o-o, hello Mexico”, to “Over land, over sea / Down in the valley, through the trees”, to “All around the world I’ve been looking”. This theme fits hand in glove with the music’s cadenced tempos. A restless spirit brings people together, whether friends, family, or lovers. We are all searching for meaning. LaFarge presumes he has found the answer and shares his discovery with us on Rhumba Country.   

This travelogue we are on is life. LaFarge urges us to appreciate the world and each other in a lively yet gentle tone. There is something Christ-like about his proselytization, and the last words on Rhumba Country explicitly praise Jesus, to whom the record is dedicated. However, the album is more general in its spirituality. There are few specific allusions to a particular deity (“Lord bless these seeds I sow”). Even the song named for the saintly “Sister Andre” is about finding another lover rather than discoursing on a religious theme. The wisdom of the world’s once oldest living person is that anything can happen at any time. Can I get a hallelujah?

Pokey LaFarge plays acoustic or electric guitar on most tracks and is ably backed up by a slew of other musicians on mellotron, tenor, and baritone saxophones, electric bass, drums, percussion, several guitars, and harmony vocalists. LaFarge’s distinctive voice is always out in front. He keeps the mood breezy. He doesn’t raise the volume to make a point. He purposely strives to be friendly, offering to make one feel better “if only for one night” as he cheekily sings. In another song, he professes “unconditional love” in a voice that could melt butter while a chorus of “la la las” sweetly swings in the background.

The one cover song is reggae artist Ken Boothe’s “Home Home Home”. Boothe’s rocksteady version from 1967 has a gospel feel. The Jamaican artist sings of home as a place from the past and the afterlife. LaFarge is backed by a choir, which gives the song a churchy sound, but he hastens the beat. Boothe is in no rush to get to heaven. LaFarge sounds like he is in a hurry to get there. That doesn’t mean he’s in a hurry to die.

There’s a joyful element to Rhumba Country that may be found in the Lord’s spirit, the pleasure of bouncy rhythms, or the magic of making music. Pokey LaFarge presents us with the evidence. We are left to decide what it means. He keeps the preaching to a minimum and implores us to dance.

RATING 7 / 10