Album Review – Pokey LaFarge’s “Something in the Water”
Some 70 years behind the times and yet still cooler than the rest of us, Pokey LaFarge is like the musical equivalent of the Austin Powers character brought out of cryogenic freeze to do battle with the forces of bad music by reminding the world of a time when popular songs still embodied taste, composition, and a timeless charisma instead of the diarrhetic pap dictated by the fickle tastes of 15-year-olds that we suffer from today.
Pokey is no bit. Spend some time in the man’s presence and you’ll discover that his Dapper Dan decorum doesn’t have an on/off switch. Ragtime jazz and hillbilly bop, it’s just what happens when Pokey opens his mouth and assembles some friends around to interpret his original songs. Sure it’s a throwback sort of show, but Pokey is a throwback sort of guy. Even if you happen to bump into him at a Wienerschnitzel and don’t identify yourself as a fan, he’d still look, talk and act like a guy frozen in 1937.
It can be a scary moment for the fans of a small time artist when they finally see their ship come in after slagging it out for a decade or more and sign to a serious label. This is just what Pokey did when he put pen to paper with Rounder Records to release Something in the Water. Frankly, the question about Pokey after ten years of music was where could he go when his signature sound was so keenly tied to a previous era. The answer was to go big, and go up.
Some could point to Pokey’s big break coming with his last album, a self-titled release in 2013 with Jack White’s Third Man Records that was produced by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. Though it was a fine project, it lacked a little pizzaz, and though Jack White and Third Man Records may be sexy music names, it remains to be seen if they really have the business acumen to release big records beyond Jack’s own works and small-run side project vinyl stuff.
Something in the Water pulls out all the stops and captures Pokey on his ‘A’ game. This is Pokey with what sounds like all the resources he could want at his disposal, and a selection of original songs that rival any others that bare his name. Forget about Pokey LaFarge falling victim to rust or repeating himself, Something in the Water might symbolize his high water mark when it’s all said and done.
Though style is what you think of first with Pokey, his singing just keeps getting better, displaying ridiculous control, and bringing in a full band with a horn section whose worked out all the kinks on the road results in recordings that feel alive and looking for ears to infect with fuzzy grooves and tones. You can focus on the style and the arrangements, but don’t overlook that at its heart, this is still a songwriter’s project, and many of these songs could be imported into any era or style of music, and their sentiments would still ring pure.
Pokey had me a bit worried at the beginning that he’d gone all hipster on us when I saw the album cover, but it’s actually an exact illustration of the lines from the title track. Something in the Water includes a lot of odes to the ladies, both for their virtues and their demons, and with Pokey always playing the foil. And for limiting himself in such a narrow window of influence, Pokey still evidences a lot of variety on this record.
Another individual who deserves praise is the producer Jimmy Sutton. Possibly best known as the upright bass player for fellow throwback artist JD McPherson, Sutton is one of those selfless side players who could just as easily be focusing only on his own music, but lends his hands to these other artists and is the secret ingredient behind a lot of great old school roots music.
Pokey is also a proud Midwestern native, and shows it on Something in the Water. Originally from Bloomington, IL and now based out of St. Louis, the Midwest isn’t a place you normally think about as a somewhere to thump your chest and brag about, but through his music, Pokey traces the lineage of some of America’s best audio styles and eras back to the breadbasket, and back to the time when the region was the gateway to the West, a romantic notion in the minds of Easterners, and a harbor for a hodgepodge of music styles carried on the backs of people searching for a place to plant their dreams.
Something in the Water is a real hoot, a toe tapper, and a good time that also eases into a little heartbreak in spurts. It’s old music for old souls, those lost in time, and those fond of flyover country.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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April 9, 2015 @ 8:28 am
I just gave this a listen on Spotify this morning. I loved it! Pokey has a fantastic sound.
April 9, 2015 @ 8:44 am
Shit-fire that’s good. And a 1 3/4 guns up to boot! That is my wheel house!!
My ears are tongue-fucking my brain as thanks for getting to hear this joyful noise–compared to the Trash-ville music I normally subject myself to!!!
April 9, 2015 @ 9:14 am
He can not be ignored any longer. Don’t forget his track on the Asleep at the Wheel tribute.
April 9, 2015 @ 9:24 am
I listened to this album twice in a row without stopping. What a GREAT album!!! I gave it 4 guns up.
“She puts on make up and does her hair, to cook fried chicken in her underwear.” Yea! 😀
On a side note, I’m now working on a song called “Bumping into Pokey at the Wienerschnitzel”. Thanks for the inspiration Trigg!
April 9, 2015 @ 11:25 am
That’s a damn good song right their, I’ve heard of Pokey before but never listened to any of his music. Definitely gonna check this album out though, thanks for the review Trig.
April 9, 2015 @ 11:42 am
I really like it. I haven’t given this guy much of a chance but i sure do really like it, I’m gonna be following him from now on
April 9, 2015 @ 12:21 pm
I like this guy. He is awsome. This is very catchy song. I really like his singing.
April 9, 2015 @ 12:58 pm
I am SO into this. My favorite track is “Actin’ A Fool”. For now.
April 9, 2015 @ 2:18 pm
Can’t stop smiling.
April 9, 2015 @ 5:09 pm
I’m a fan of a variety but the something in the water song is pretty awful.
April 9, 2015 @ 5:31 pm
I just got my copy today. It’s a gas! I’m loving it, but I also loved the self-titled release from ’13 until the novelty wore off. Hopefully, for reasons you stated, “Something in the Water” has lasting power.
One of the funniest pictures I saw on Facebook last year was LaFarge and White sitting at Comerica Park taking in a Tiger game. White has this look on his face like “where is this man’s off button.”
“This is may pal, Jack, he’s the butter and egg man!”
April 9, 2015 @ 9:24 pm
I Love Pokey! His music just makes you feel good it’s like health food for the soul.
April 12, 2015 @ 1:33 pm
Wish I was Pokey in this video.
April 14, 2015 @ 10:25 am
Jimmy Sutton is definitely more than a side-player for JD McPherson…. he’s been having big-time success for over 25 years. He was the bass player for the Mighty Blue Kings who did really well in the 90’s in the swing revival. Before JD McPherson, he was the frontman for popular jump/rhythm and blues band, The Four Charms, headlining festivals around the country and touring internationally on a regular basis. You are right that he has helped a ton of people achieve next-level success, though. Check out the Western Elstons some time…another side band that he plays bass in. Two members from NRBQ and Joel Patterson who is a sick guitarist/steel player.
MIghty Blue Kings – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Xas9GtPyAk
The Four Charms – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlkPUp70QZw
The Western Elstons – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdA_Tfk6yoo
March 18, 2016 @ 8:57 am
Don’t forget credit Alex Hall. He is the engineer with the studio that is putting out all these great recordings. His list of clients is an all star line up of throwback artists. He has signature sounds you can hear across all the works of all these great artists.
Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories
The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming
Pokey LaFarge – Something in the Water
JD Mcpherson – Let The Good Times Roll
The Bellfuries – Workingman’s Bellfuries
JD McPherson – Signs & Signifers
Joel Patterson / The Modern Sounds
From my listening point, he really is a master at capturing the vibe of songs played with a throwback vibe and presenting it to the modern world. He blends the best of retro and modern engineering and presents the listener with music that sounds great played side by side with both old recordings and recently recorded music. That is engineering artistry. I would really love to hear what he could do with Bob Dylan in the studio. He would be the perfect fit for Dylan’s modern sounds.
He also plays drums for Jimmy Sutton and played with Joel Patterson and the Modern Sounds.