It’s painfully obvious when a roots music artist thinks they’ve hit the mark but hasn’t done their homework: How many times have you bumped up against some young wannabe blues or country singer who sounds like he or she put more time into studying the wardrobe than the music? But every once in while there comes an act who’s plainly labored to learn from Americana’s traditions with devotion and respect—and the fact that they have the look as well as the sound down? Well, that’s just the icing on the tasty cake. Pokey LaFarge, who plays the Rosendale Café this month, is one of these all-too-rare players.
Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, LaFarge is a mere 30 years old but looks like he stepped out of the sepia-toned photos from the liner notes for some compilation of prewar country 78s. And aurally he just kills it, writing and playing timelessly sublime 1920s/’30s-inflected hillbilly blues, jazz, ragtime, and swing tunes with his band. But, as NPR’s Scott Thompson put it, “his albums never feel like cheap exercises in nostalgia, in part because LaFarge directs his old-fashioned sensibilities in the service of sharp, infectious new material. His songs aren’t stiffly posed wax-museum sculptures. Their energy makes them feel new and alive.”
Here’s a fittingly shot live video of LaFarge and band romping through “La La Blues”: