Pokey LaFarge seems to live in the world in which a performer whose name is Pokey LaFarge would not elicit any arched eyebrows. But alas, despite his faded sepia album cover, zoot suit and slicked back hair, he lives in a time when Katy Perry is striving for her fifth number-one single in a year.
It could just be that fact that makes his second album, Middle of Everywhere, recorded with his band, the South City Three, sound so refreshing. He combines the classic folk of early Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, the swing music of the early ‘50s along with the early traces of true rock ‘n roll. This is Americana at its purest.
On the jumpy “Drinkin’ Whisky Tonight,” there’s a devilish excitement about passing and downing a bottle of Jack in the melody and in LaFarge’s voice. He shows a giddy romantic side on “Head to Toe,” telling his loved one, “I just say in my way that I love you from head to toe.” The songs never fail to amuse, such as the well-crafted lyrics that evoke heartbreak and passion or the small details in the music, like the playing of a washboard.
LaFarge sings in a strong high-pitched vocal that has a styling that lends itself to the narratives. He also plays a mean harmonica. The band deserves special mention for its supple and full harmonies. The horns pop. The drums cackle. The strings zing.
Of course, there’s a nostalgia factor in listening to Pokey LaFarge. It harkens back to the illusion of a pure America, which any good “Mad Men” fan knows never existed. While maybe our county’s social and cultural norms were never so great, Middle of Everywhere shows that music sure was and, in this case, still can be.