A dusty ’40s jazz club performer comes to life
Aarik Danielsen claims that Pokey LaFarge “made riverboat chic cool again.”
Pokey LaFarge (Andrew Heissler) is an alt-country, swing musician, singer and songwriter. Some may call him a hipster because LaFarge looks unerringly like a jazz-folk artist of the 1940s. Frequently dressed in vintage suits, eccentric ties and suspenders with slicked-back hair, LaFarge is always accompanied by a sunburst, 1939 Gibson L-12 electric guitar. Taking agency of “Pokey,” a name that his mother used to rebuke him with, Andrew Heissler was fond of literature and history in his adolescent years, citing Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac as his influences for propelling him to write and play the blues. Rock Bottom Rhapsody is currently Pokey LaFarge’s ninth studio album.
“Rock Bottom Rhapsody” opens with a soft, tranquil orchestrated symphony as the record’s introduction. There are a few more interludes throughout the record, such as, “Rock Bottom Reprise” and “Rock Bottom Finale.” “End of My Rope” is a catchy, pop-like song that discusses his passion for performing when he sings: “Let me die on stage, singing the last song I know. Let the spotlight shine the skin off my bones.”
“F**k Me Up” is a neo-authentic, swing track with female background singers providing a harmony to begin. LaFarge sounds distant and reverberated a little, as a clanky piano plinks away. There are occasional moments when the music stops, and the only sound is Pokey’s vocals and the female harmonies.
“Bluebird” is a classic swing song with the stand-up bass and jazz piano, a true vintage song one can find a partner to dance with. In the chorus, Pokey LaFarge scats to the tune of a piano solo. “Lucky Sometimes” is a modest, piano ballad with simply a piano and vocals expressing a narrative of a waiter falling in love with a customer in a café. “Fallen Angel” is a soulful tango that combines swing music and nostalgia.
Pokey LaFarge rises up to the authentic vaudeville character he painted for himself, leaving a spirited, old-time album that encapsulates Americana ragtime.