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Pokey LaFarge was ready to move forward.
In March 2020, the veteran singer-songwriter packed up and left his Los Angeles abode behind, putting his belongings in storage in anticipation of spending extensive time on the road in support of his then-forthcoming album, Rock Bottom Rhapsody. He couldn’t wait to head down to Austin a few weeks later to showcase those songs and launch the album with his band at South-by-Southwest. Then the pandemic hit and all of LaFarge’s well-laid plans went into thin air.
Stuck in East Austin with nowhere to go, LaFarge did what he does best: he got to work. Throughout his career, nine albums to date including a stint on Jack White’s Third Man Records, the singer-songwriter has never been one to look back in anger or disappointment. LaFarge used the sudden change in plans to his advantage, having perhaps his greatest period of personal growth in the midst of this crippling pandemic.
It came as no surprise that the songs instantly started to flow out of him. LaFarge is an artist who refuses to rest on his laurels and compromise. He’s always motivated and ready to create — and when he’s at peace in isolation like he was here, the results can be magical. Looking in, inspired by the deep soul not just from these shores, but from distant geographical places like Africa or South America, LaFarge set out to create a body of work that paired emotional lyrics with a killer groove and grabby melodies.
Written by LaFarge and co-produced with Chris Seefried, the album is one of LaFarge’s strongest and most mature lyrical efforts to date. The album’s title, In the Blossom of Their Shade, is taken from a lyric in the stunning, yet dusty “Mi Ideal.” That song sonically draws influences from the Southwest, South America, and the Caribbean. The distant warmth of the music, especially rhythmically, adeptly coincides with the longing that’s expressed in the lyrics.
Unlike its melancholy predecessor, In the Blossom of Their Shade showcases the positivity of coming out of the darkness and into the light. The record was nearly titled Siesta Love since it captures the thematic notion of being the perfect summer afternoon soundtrack…the type of music you want to listen to while having a cocktail with your significant other. It makes sense musically as well — LaFarge intentionally crafted songs that created space and have melodies that can glide throughout a composition that’s a far cry from the swing and blues-infused songs of his earlier work.
LaFarge’s rigorous work ethic powered him through this potentially challenging creative period. As days became a couple of months, songs blossomed from embryonic ideas into fully-formed ones and he was ready to move on, which typified his mindset as a working artist.
After he left Austin, he headed up north to Chicago for two-and-a-half months to record In the Blossom of Their Shade. At home in the city two hours north of where he grew up and became a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, LaFarge rigorously and meticulously recorded the songs (half of which he wrote with his best friend Nick Africano over FaceTime) in the Windy City.
Thematically, LaFarge, in a way only he can, tackles a wide gamut of emotions. On “Rotterdam,” it’s easy to hear how the dreamy song encapsulates a notion of a Shangri-La even in the most unusual of places.
Look no further than album closer, the twangy “Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever).” The song neatly ties the past year along with a universal longing that brighter days are on the horizon, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.
Pokey LaFarge never wanted to be an artist that had one gigantic record and was then lost to the annals of history. As for now? He’s back to where the whole odyssey began over a year ago: Los Angeles. Even with In The Blossom of Their Shade on the horizon, LaFarge hasn’t put down his pen. You can’t keep a great songwriter idle.
Photo: Eliot Lee Hazel