This album arrives under the banner ‘Austin Legend, The Late Jimmy LaFave..’ and as such presents a reviewer with a potentially thorny problem. What if it’s no good? Is there anything to be gained from constructive criticism as the artist themselves will not be able to respond or react? Luckily any concerns were brushed aside by a double album full of heartbreak and celebration as well as an underlying sense of melancholy entirely appropriate for the material as well as the deeply sad back story.
Jimmy La Fave was a multiple award-winning songwriter, even garlanded with the prestigious Austin Music Singer/ Songwriter of the year twice in a row. It is perhaps to this reviewer’s shame that although knowing the name the music had not been investigated. This mistake will not happen again!
Disc one opens with an elegiac instrumental ‘A Thousand By My Side,’ before the more straightforward country ramble of ‘Already Gone’ and then comes the first sucker punch: ‘Help Me Make It Through The Day’ is fabulous, a top draw blues lament featuring a wonderful lead guitar poured all over the thumping piano and La Fave’s broken and bruised voice. There is something of the Stones here as well as a feel of Ryan Adams circa Gold and his Rescue Blues.
Three tracks in and the tone has been set and mood darkens. ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ is a sweet love song, all acoustic guitar, cello and sparkling piano that morphs into a Springsteenesque rolling paen. Think ‘The River’ and when the Hammond organ comes in – delightful! The Hammond makes a reappearance in ‘Minstrel Boy Howling At The Moon’ as well as some fabulous harmonies that lift this simple song beyond the everyday. It is becoming clear that this songwriter had some wonderful tunes in his locker as this album is chock full of them and the tragedy of his recent loss to cancer becomes stronger with each number played.
There are Dylan covers too. ‘My Back Pages’ is full of regret and longing, self-awareness and fragility. ‘What Good Am I’ is similarly affecting with La Fave’s voice high and clear above the simple instrumentation. ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,’ a perfect album closer.
Disc two is similarly packed with quality. Opening with the Etta James torch song ‘Don’t Go To Strangers’ – again the Hammond is to the fore but it is the vocal delivery that arrests the attention. Crumpled and careworn, deeply affecting. ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’ and ‘It Makes No Difference’ full of melancholy beauty but not self pity. And it is perhaps ‘When The Thought Of You Catches Up with Me’ that perfectly encapsulates the quality of the songwriting here. Lyrically adroit and emotive and delivered with a musical tapestry that perfectly fits the sentiments.
This is a great album, it could be a seventies classic such is the strength and feeling of the material; it will stand as a fitting testament to a clearly gifted songwriter who has left us far too early. It is also a timely reminder that there are some wonderful songwriters and performers out there who often operate below the conventional radars but are makers of astonishing, affecting music.
Extraordinary posthumous release showcasing a tremendous songwriting talent – Highly recommended!