thu 20/06/2024

Album: Pokey LaFarge - Rhumba Country | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Pokey LaFarge - Rhumba Country

Album: Pokey LaFarge - Rhumba Country

A pig in a pokey, as the singer farms in Maine and reads the Bible, with technicolor results

Too relentlessly upbeat

Pokey LaFarge has always defied categorisation. He likened his 2020 album Rock Bottom Rhapsody to a mix tape, with elements of bluegrass, barrelhouse, doo-wop, jazz, rockabilly, country blues, the great American songbook and even hints of movie music. In the Blossom of Their Shade, his lockdown album, was an exhilarating ride in the ghostly company of the likes of Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.

In the three years since Blossom was released, LaFarge has decamped to Maine where he worked long days on a farm. “I’d be pushing a plow [sic] or scattering seeds, and the songs would just come to me,” he has explained. “It was tremendously inspirational and made me realise that apart from singing, farming is perhaps the oldest human art form.” As the quote suggests, he also spent a lot of time reading the Bible, and of course plenty of songwriters have found inspiration there.

The result is Rhumba Country, though rhumba is not a form readily associated with that blustery Atlantic state. But rhumba, or rumba, in fact originated on America’s east coast during the depression years, a mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms with big band – a far remove from LaFarge’s latest opus. And of course the title is a Pokey joke on our endless need to compartmentalise everything.

Rhumba Country is sort of tropical rockabilly, and the album feels like a ride in a 1950s convertible through nowheresville. Fun for a time but then discomfort and boredom set in. The music is just not that interesting, perhaps – probably – because it’s so relentlessly upbeat. Where once Pokey's music was “dark blue” now it is “Technicolor”. LaFarge has come to understand “that creating and expressing joy is my gift”. There’s insufficient light and shade, nor, with the exception of the Ken Boothe Jamaican soul classic “Home, Home, Home”, any real change of pace. It just feels, what… mindless. Vamp till ready.

When you’ve parked the convertible at the beach, it would be fun to listen to after a swim, as you relax on the sand, cold beer in hand. In North London, not so much.

Liz Thomson's website

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