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Pokey Lafarge

Rock Bottom Rhapsody: Limited Edition Pink & Blue Vinyl LP


Release Date: 10 December, 2021

When youve spent most of your career sounding as if you were living in the 21st century by fate rather than by choice, figuring out how to sound more up to date is going to be a complicated thing, and it seems that Pokey LaFarge has been giving that scenario a lot of thought. Since releasing Manic Revelations in 2017, Pokey LaFarge left St. Louis for Los Angeles, experienced what he calls a fall from grace, had a spiritual reawakening, and recorded 2020s Rock Bottom Rhapsody, in which he clearly wants to change up his usual creative persona as a slightly twangy jazzbo here on a pass from 1923. The rootsy jazz-inflected sound that dominated LaFarges early albums is wired deep enough into his DNA that he cant entirely shake it in as far as his melodies are concerned, but in terms of his production and arrangements, hes clearly willing to fight that. The distorted vocals and drums on Fuck Me Up give the performance a suitably messed-up lo-fi undertow, Storm a Comin is steeped in 60s-style soul, a late-50s/early-60s pop vibe informs End of My Rope, and if the arrangement on Bluebird is seriously retro, the circular snap of the drums and the layered vocals on the chorus are a giveaway that someone had been spending some time listening to dance music in a club. At times, Rock Bottom Rhapsody sounds as if LaFarge is trying very hard to break new creative ground for himself, though the results arent a particularly radical shift from what his fans have come to expect. But if he sounds a bit uncertain about how to present himself, LaFarges confidence as a songwriter is strong and justifiably so. Lucky Sometimes is a love song just sweet enough to work without getting gooey, the folky shuffle of Just the Same is well matched to a confessional lyric, and End of My Rope nods to his personal troubles without wallowing in self-pity or demanding we feel sorry for him. And if LaFarges reedy voice still doesnt sound up to date, hes developed enough vocal authority to not sound totally lost outside of a faux-nostalgic context. Pokey LaFarge is still working out the math on how to exist in more than one decade at a time, but Rock Bottom Rhapsody has more than enough good things in it that hes probably going to be just fine wherever he finally settles down. ~ Mark Deming
New West Records
Vinyl LP