ROCK BOTTOM RHAPSODY
New West Records
Soundtrack To a Soul in Crisis
Pokey LaFarge is another one of those acts that I appear to have seen live a couple of times, but don’t appear to have ever owned anything from their recorded output.
Which; I suppose means that I have nothing to compare his latest release to.
It’s interesting that, as usual I played this twice before looking at the Press Release; and my thoughts that these songs were somehow ‘darker’ than I’d expected; come from the fact that Pokey wrote the core to ‘document his overindulgence and despair‘ during a ‘downward spiral‘ after moving to LA from St Louis.
For most of us, what he went through would have been something we would have wanted to close the book on; but being a Singer-Songwriter he’s got a fascinating album out of his experiences!
There’s actually an orchestral underscore that opens the title track, Rock Bottom Rhapsody; which totally surprised me; but that quickly leads into LaFarge’s trademarked toe-tapping and melodious Rootsy Americana, which is the first of a series of very dark stories.
I’ll give you a clue; as he sings;
“I’m making light of my misery
Shining bright for the whole world to see
hope that I die on stage singing the last song I know.“
By the time you hear Pokey sing this on stage, I’m sure he will claim it’s ‘tongue in cheek’ ….. but it did come from a dark time in his life; and the lyrics amplify that.
When you pick apart the lyrics here; you are left wondering why he didn’t go for a full on Southern Gothic doom and gloom mix; but with Joel Paterson on geetar and The Master Jimmy Sutton on bass; I guess they couldn’t do anything else but wrap everything up in Honky-Tonky and N’Orleans style tunes.
Take Bluebird as a for instance; you will find yourself shaking your booty to it as you do the washing up; then one day the lyrics will hit you like a left hook to the jaw and your knees will wobble!
Perhaps I’m wrong; but I think of Pokey LaFarge as a Good Time Charlie; and my memories of his Jumpin’ Hot Club gigs are very much along those lines; so in many ways this is a very brave album for him to release …… but when the songs are as good as Lucky Sometimes, which sounds like it could be from a Bogart movie; or the spiky Fallen Angel which is just waiting for Scorsese to add it to a film soundtrack.
As I said earlier I don’t know where this fits in LaFarge’s canon of work; but I hope his fans appreciate the strength of will it must have taken to not just write; but then record and release Ain’t Comin’ Home and the single; F*ck Me Up; although I doubt it got any airplay! My world is actually a better place for having both close by.
While most songs here are what we used to call ‘Album tracks’ there are sill a couple of commercial cuts that could easily fit into daytime radio schedules quite easily; because the world loves a great breakup song don’t they? Which is what Just The Same and Lost In The Crowd sound like to me.
I’ve had my own ‘issues’ over the years; and the current Medical Pandemic sweeping the world isn’t helping; but what often gets me through is music; and I know that’s true of many other sufferers; so that’s what I had in mind when it came to selecting a Favourite Song; because the 60’s pastiche Carry On sounds quite charming at first; but peel back the veneer and Pokey is singing just for me, and me alone ….. or perhaps it could be you; and you alone. Such is the raw strength and power in his delicate words.
Obviously this album has been scheduled for an April release for several months now; but coming out at the height of the craziest time in living memory when we are all confined to our homes going ‘stir crazy’ just may be the perfect time for this wonderful and brave set of songs.
I’ve mentioned the ‘cinematic quality’ of many of these songs; and with hindsight the judicious use of book-ending the songs with the orchestral Rock Bottom Rhapsody itself, and sliding in a mini-version half way through makes this sound like the Soundtrack to a memorable part of Pokey LaFarge’s life; but a part that is best remembered in song ……. rather than deeds.
Released April 10th 2020