“Limiting myself to a genre has never really been my thing,” says Pokey LaFarge. “I’m most purely a rambler. I’m traveling the world all the time, and my songs have been directly influenced by my travels. You’re liable to hear something in my songs that sounds like traditional jazz; next thing you know, you might be hearing something that sounds like Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skylinemixed with the chanson singers of France, or a waltz mixed with cumbia, or soul mixed with swing.”
Ever since his first record, 2006’s self-released Marmalade, LaFarge has been a difficult specimen to pin down, indeed. Though he was raised on a healthy diet of blues, bluegrass, ragtime, Western swing and old-time country — and though he has consistently demonstrated a decided affinity for pre-1950s menswear — the Illinois native is by no means a throwback or a museum piece. Timelessness, and refined good taste, is LaFarge’s raison d’être, and his influences are as multi-hued and wide-ranging as the rhythms that buoy his starkly poetic songs — rhythms that are steeped in the very essence of jazz.
“With me, lyrics are the most important thing,” he explains. “But when it comes to music, it’s just as much about the groove — something about the groove that makes me want to move, you know? There’s always a little bit of swing to it, something that’s got a bounce. I mean, people have been swinging for hundreds of years!”
LaFarge’s deft way with words and music — as showcased on such dynamite discs as 2008’s Beat, Move and Shake, 2010’s Riverboat Soul, 2011’s Middle of Everywhere, and 2015’s Something in the Water — has won him raves from critics, and inspired a devoted following on both sides of the Atlantic. Jack White, recognizing LaFarge as a kindred spirit, asked him to sing and play mandolin on White’s 2012 album Blunderbuss, took LaFarge and his band the South City Three out on tour as a supporting act, and signed him to Third Man Records for 2013’s Pokey LaFarge LP. LaFarge also performed the White-penned “Red’s Theater of the Absurd” in a saloon scene in Gore Verbinski’s 2013 film The Lone Ranger, an appearance which eventually led to landing the recurring role of country legend Hank Snow in CMT’s 2017 series Sun Records. LaFarge has played big stages like the Ryman, Red Rocks and Bonnaroo, but he’s equally at home ripping it up in any small theater, nightclub or roadhouse that’ll have him.
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