Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Image635670022972920082Previous to this listening experience, I had never heard Pokey LaFarge’s music, though I have ‘Bluegrass friends’ that strongly favor his work. Something in the Water offers up twelve cuts, about half of which are original compositions from Mr. LaFarge. It is superbly produced and professionally tracked. Balance and tone are exceptional and the overall sound quality is warm and comfortable.

First off, it think it would be fair to say that nothing on this CD remotely resembles Bluegrass music, even by the most liberal artistic standards. It is roughly a blend of Blues, Dixieland Jazz, Swing and Folk music performed with hardly any instruments that might traditionally be associated with Bluegrass. No five-string banjos, fiddles or mandolins, that I could detect, though it sounded like Pokey used an upright bass and acoustic guitar on at least some of the cuts. There are brass horns, tenor banjo, electric guitars, lap steel and a host of other instruments that even the most drug-crazed Bluegrass aficionado would reject as incapable of making a contribution to Bluegrass music.

With that in mind, if one chooses to be a sport and give it a listen, the listener might be pleasantly surprised at how palatable this music can be to even the marginally open-minded, Bluegrass music consumer. The music within this project has an old-time, traditional feel that is easy to listen to. Though largely constructed around LaFarge’s vocals, as well as the often clever or poignant lyrical context of the material, the arrangements have clear musical direction with all tracks tastefully orchestrated and precisely executed.

Something in the Water has an old-music flavor, perhaps such as one would expect from a recording produced in the first quarter of the twentieth century if it was somehow captured on modern equipment and with contemporary recording knowledge. The music here, in this reviewer’s opinion, is not ‘novelty music.’ It is too stylistic, and structurally serious: a very nice, fresh sound.

Choosing favorites from the offerings was challenging. There are no ‘bad’ cuts. Finally, after listening several times, I decided my favorite is the title cut, Something in the Water. It is upbeat, has clever lyrics, interesting chord changes, and a cool acoustic guitar solo. It is also a great ‘set up’ for the cuts that follow. I also particularly enjoyed the Mariachi-tinged sound of Goodbye, Barcelona, as well as the swingy Bad Girl. We all know at least one “bad girl,” right?

I now understand why my friends enjoy Pokey LaFarge’s music. That is, aside from being a St. Louis area alumni, like them. I can also see how there could be a connection between the type of listener who enjoys Bluegrass and other traditional acoustic music forms, and Pokey LaFarge’s music. Something in the Water is rootsy, traditional-feeling and easy to relate with. It’s easy to understand, though exquisitely crafted. As a result of this encounter, I will seek to enjoy more of his music and I can confidently recommend this CD to friends and family.

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