Pokey LaFarge “Rhumba Country”

Independent, 2024

Sunny, Summery, Vintage.

artwork for Pokey LaFarge album "Rhumba Country"Born Andrew Heissler and, interestingly, putting his birth name against his songwriting, singer Pokey LaFarge based his quirky renaming on the childhood nickname used by his mother. Growing up in Illinois, his love of music developed as a teenager, which led him to hitchhike to the West Coast, where he earned a living busking before releasing his first album, ‘Marmalade‘.

In the intervening years, LaFarge has released a plethora of albums before, more recently, undergoing a significant life change. After searching the country for somewhere to put down his roots, LaFarge found himself in Mid-Coast Maine, working 12-hour days on a local farm. He credits this experience with an “extraordinary burst of creativity” which “redefined his sense of purpose as an artist”. He is highly philosophical when referring to this period of his life and has said, “There was a time when I glorified sadness because I lost sight of who I was, but now I understand that creating and expressing joy is my gift, and gifts are meant to be shared”. LaFarge subsequently returned to city life in Los Angeles, where, taking this new country inspiration and collaborating with artist and musician Elliot Bergman, ‘Rhumba Country‘ comes in. Mainly co-written and co-produced, the album is further inspired by music from around the world celebrating life and love.

The album opens with the sweet and groovy ‘One You, One Me‘, a rejoicing, enthrallingly musical song of togetherness. This is followed by ‘For a Night‘, a song seemingly of seduction, punctuated with the hooting of a steam train. LaFarge, however, innocently describes it as a welcome song for people at his shows. ‘Run Run Run‘, a tale about perseverance and courage, has an upbeat, Ricky Martin meets Jungle Book-style feel to it. ‘Like A Sailor‘, on the other hand, starts as a dream-like R&B ditty imploring one not to lose focus or be tempted “Grass ain’t greener, juice ain’t sweeter, no no“. Unfortunately, the vocal treatment and repetition can be somewhat irritating.

The album’s lead single, ‘Sister Andre‘, is inspired by the true story of the French nun who recently passed away at the age of 118. After hearing her story, LaFarge began singing about a character with a lot of sage advice to share, and it turned into this summery song of encouragement for those who are lonely and hoping for love. It has a pretty sound and lots of pillow talk and lamp-dancing in the accompanying video, but again, it is rather lyrically repetitive.

So Long Chicago‘, a lighthearted musing about escaping cold city life, has a congenial, groovy rhythm but is yet again lyrically repetitive, a pre-chorus and chorus making up much of the song.
The choice of ‘Home Home Home‘ bears relevance to the fact LaFarge has spent his whole life on the move. It is a solid interpretation of the Ken Boothe Rocsteady classic and will no doubt resonate with many.

With its retro Bebop vibe, ‘It’s Not Over‘ tells of LaFarge getting back together with his now-wife many years after they first dated. With a bright, sunny feel, this one is very much a dance tune.
Almost as an afterthought, before completing the album, LaFarge decided it needed a love song, and ‘Made To Be Loved‘ is that very cute song—a duet written and performed by LaFarge and his wife Addie Hamilton. It’s a jangly, chipper tune decorated with la la la’s, the two vocals suitably complementing one another. Closing out, the whistling intro to ‘You Make My Garden Grow‘ leads into an uplifting hymn celebrating creation and harvest and is delightfully lyrical, melodic and soothing.

Possibly an acquired taste, in ‘Rhumba Country‘, Pokey LaFarge demonstrates his self-declared new-found joy for life. Describing his time working the farm, he says, “I’d be pushing a plow or scattering seeds, and the songs would just come to me”, and he has undoubtedly, together with numerous accomplished musicians, ploughed that experience into this latest, polished, collection.


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