Pokey LaFarge, "Manic Revelations" (Rounder Records)
Modern troubadour Pokey LaFarge has an old-time band, out-of-time sounds and themes both ageless and current on "Manic Revelations."
LaFarge's voice is high in the mix and it is as unaffected as it is clear. You won't have to rely much on the lyric sheet to understand his stories, which cover a lot of bases.
He is backed by the Southside Collective, a band whose many resources — including the tubax (a Paul Bunyanesque saxophone) and stylophone, a small keyboard that looks like an answering machine — is at the service of American sounds, from soul and swing to country blues.
The highly danceable beats of lead single "Riot in the Streets," LaFarge's take on the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in a suburb of his hometown of St. Louis, may distract a bit from the narrative but the singer's sincerity keeps the sentiments focused.
LaFarge is also sensitive, self-deprecating, romantic, idealistic and passionate.
"Better Man Than Me" concedes that sleeping all day and playing his "sad songs" all night won't help him get the girl of his dreams, or any girl at all, but the mood is only slightly melancholy. "Wellington" is about his mishaps in the capital of New Zealand, a city he'd like to escape forever but also, if needed, be buried in.
"Going to the Country" and "Bad Dreams" are about getting away just out of town or far across the world, while "Silent Movie" is plain reclusive — "stay inside your mind."
"Manic Revelations" is an album of honest sounds and attitudes and LaFarge is its candid interpreter.