A youthful songwriter with an old soul, Pokey LaFarge brings a fresh new voice and energy to the breadth of American music, including ragtime blues, western swing, riverboat jazz and vintage soul. He’s touring in support of his much-anticipated upcoming album Rock Bottom Rhapsody.
In early 2018, LaFarge — searching for the sort of artistic freedom and inspiration he wasn’t finding in the Midwest — relocated from his longtime home base of St. Louis, Missouri, to Los Angeles, California. New songs came quickly to LaFarge in his new environment, but new temptations soon found him, as well. Though he declines to get into specifics, LaFarge admits that he experienced a significant “fall from grace” during the last months of 2018. But shortly before the recording of Rock Bottom Rhapsody began, LaFarge experienced a spiritual awakening — and the faith he re-embraced in his hour of darkness helped to buoy him through the making of the album. Through it all, LaFarge’s plaintive vocals remain pleasingly front and center, the singer indulging in his love of crooners, from the classics like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to singers not typically associated with crooning like Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and Bob Dylan.
Musically, this record is more stripped down than previous efforts, with less instrumentation—just a five piece of guitars, keys, bass and drums. LaFarge continues to mix and match a wide variety of styles and traditions, while never losing track of his own vision. He cites a wide net of influences for this record from all over the globe, including French chanson music, Jamaican rocksteady, and music from the Latin world, as well as tried and true American artists like Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Despite the trying period that preceded its recording, Rock Bottom Rhapsody is ultimately far more uplifting and life-affirming than its title would suggest.
Though now based out of Los Angeles, the St. Louis-reared Pokey LaFarge (born Andrew Heissler) first got his start as a street busker while still in his teens, playing old country blues and hillbilly songs. After years spent hitchhiking around the country and playing on the street, LaFarge formed his own band, The South City Three, and began recording his unique brand of vintage Americana in the mid 2000’s.
With his musical career blossoming, LaFarge’s records started gaining national attention, twice winning Best Americana Album at the Independent Music Awards. In 2013, LaFarge signed with the high profile Third Man Records (rock star Jack White’s boutique label) and put out a self-titled album that showcased a bigger, more dynamic band that included a cornet and clarinet player.
LaFarge turned to the historic roots label Rounder Records for 2015’s Something in the Water, followed up by 2017’s acclaimed Manic Revelations. LaFarge’s new record, Rock Bottom Rhapsody, comes out on April 10 on New West Records.
OPENING ACT: ESTHER ROSE
“I’m always changing,” Esther Rose sings at the top of her sophomore album, ‘You Made It This Far.’ The line is at once a promise and a plea, a concise distillation of her commitment to evolution as well as her dogged determination to meet every challenge in her path with unconditional acceptance. Laid-back yet deliberate, her delivery here marries old-school country and rural folk with a plainspoken philosophy that’s thoroughly modern, and the end result is a record that’s as joyful as it is restless, one that weaves fiddle and lap steel around profound revelations, late night conversations, and all the moments in between.
“There’s this theme of radical acceptance running through the whole album,” explains Rose, who recorded the album live to tape in just four days. “I didn’t realize it until after I’d finished writing the songs, but they all came from this place of trying to understand and truly accept myself and others in our most vulnerable moments of confusion or despair.”
A New Orleanian for the last decade, Rose first gained national prominence with the release of 2017’s ‘This Time Last Night,’ an intoxicating debut that prompted Fader to praise her “honest, gorgeous country songs” and rave that “her voice has a pitched-up June Carter quality, her melodies are simple like Jimmie Rodgers’s, and her tone is reminiscent of bluesy, lovelorn greats like Rex Griffin and Patsy Cline.” The record earned Rose festival performances from Savannah Stopover to Americana Fest alongside dates with The Punch Brothers, Pokey Lafarge, and The Deslondes, and it even caught the ear of fellow Detroit native Jack White, who was so taken with the music that he invited Rose to duet with him on his ‘Boarding House Reach’ album and to share the stage for a live performance at Jazz Fest. Artist Website