Firm favourites of Blabber’n’Smoke, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three have never let us down, live or on record. Listening to or seeing them live is a kick, a reminder of how good and reaffirming the power of music can be. On the face of it they could be classified as yet another bunch of “old time” revivalists like dozens of others whose albums regularly arrive here at Blabber H.Q. While we have a great respect for and enjoy rootsy bands who are keeping old traditions alive, sometimes in an exhilarating fashion, Pokey et al are heads and shoulders above them when it comes down to sheer joie de vivre with an exuberance that might best be experienced live but which informs the recordings also. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t fallen for them after the first song or two.
A pocket dynamo LaFarge commands the stage, a born showman indeed. On record he writes songs that seem to have been in the catalogue forever such is their immediate familiarity. Middle of Everywhere is chockfull of songs that could have the listener scrambling through their record collection seeking the original version to no avail however as Pokey has written all of this fine album. In the liner notes he points out that St. Louis, his hometown, is musically speaking at the centre of the south, the mid west, the city and the country. The album bears witness to this being a melting pot of his oft noted influences including ragtime, swing, country blues and early jazz. Less bluesy than its predecessor, Riverboat Soul, Middle of Everywhere leans more towards western swing on many of the songs with Adam Hoskins’ lap steel playing adding a nice touch. The guitar playing throughout is excellent with Sunny Side of The Street and Shenandoah River in particular graced with some fine solos. The addition of cornet and trombone on Feels So Good turns the song into a neat jazzy vamp as Pokey sings about his “dancing girl.” As befits a young man girls are on Pokey’s mind and on Mississippi Girl he sings their praises on a superb ensemble piece. While the good time feel of Weedwacker Rag and Drinking Whiskey Tonight are both guaranteed to have audiences on their feet the best song here reminds one that Pokey can write fine reflective pieces (such as Beat Move and Shake It’s Arkansas). River Rock Bottom ebbs and flows seductively, reminiscent of Dan Hicks in his prime it’s a tender and sad hymn to the blues.
Throughout the album The South City Three perform stellar duties. Hoskins’ guitar embellishes Pokey’s playing perfectly while Joey Glynn’s upright bass adds a fine natural depth. His skirmishes with Ryan Koenig’s washboard on several songs are a treat while Koenig’s harmonica is always tasty. Over all this Pokey sings with confidence, at times crooning, other times hollering yet hardly ever breaking sweat he is in command throughout, oozing charisma and style.
Pokey and the band are currently touring the UK so do try to catch them. Dates on the website with a Glasgow show on 25th June at the Classic grand.