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Jimmy LaFave can go from Texas blues to "San Francisco" -- yes, with
flowers in his hair. And
that's just in the first two (out of 16!) songs here. Guitarist LaFave
raves up on some rootsy
rockers, notably Alvin Lee's "Rock and Roll Music to the World," but
he impresses most with his
soulful voice, as he sings the praises of Jesus (as on Gretchen
Peters' moving "On a Bus to St.
Cloud") and "Woody Guthrie."
"Austin-based singer songwriters are re-defining roots music. Jimmy LaFave is probably best know as a great Bob Dylan interpretor.
He delivers a devastating Emotionally Yours on Texoma (Bohemia Beat). He also tackles pop art songs like Jimmy Webb's Moon's a Harsh Mistress and Gretchen Peters' On a Bus to St. Cloud and does a redemptive rendition of Scott McKenzie's hippie hit, San Francisco.
LaFave is a patriot of
the red-dirt South, as shown in his beautiful ode Woody Gutherie and the
boisterous Elvis Loved His Mama."
Rock Meter Scores:
Bob Christgau 6
Vic Garbarini 8
Nelson George 7
Dave Marsh 8
Chuck Young 8
On his sixth album overall and first studio set in four years, Austin-based singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave offers more than his usual mix of tender ballads and rowdy rockers. It’s a set that celebrates an Americana attitude, a blend of rock ‘n’ roll revelry and an honest-to-goodness, down-home delivery.
As LaFave’s tribute to the heartland, Texoma pays homage to roots-rock tradition with a true sense of authenticity. However, the territory covered in Texoma is really a sprawling soundscape, and here LaFave’s ambitious attempts to connect this vast terrain — both literally and figuratively — expose a wide divide. He is most effective in his outpourings of emotion, sentiments best expressed by the inclusion of several impressive covers. Each is given a transcendent take — whether it’s Gretchen Peters’ beautiful “On A Bus To St. Cloud,” Jimmy Webb’s beguiling “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” Bob Dylan’s wrenching “Emotionally Yours” or a surprisingly soulful version of Papa John Phillips’ hippie hymn , “San Francisco.” On the other hand, the raucous abandon of the up-tempo tunes — particularly “Poor Man’s Dream,” “Elvis Loved His Mama,” the aptly titled “Rock And Roll Music To The World” and “On the Road To Rock And Roll” — sounds somehow rote and routine, standard R&B outings generating more energy than originality.
In effect, it’s the influences, ranging from Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Elvis Presley to Hank Williams, Sr., Bruce Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones, that allows Texoma to find some common ground. Still, that in itself is enough to earn another rave for LaFave.
Jimmy LaFave - "Texoma"
ISWM INDIE PICK OF THE MONTH - He can go from the farthest depths of honesty to the highest peaks of arrogance, with just one carefully selected word or strategically placed note. He is the King in the Land of Indie. This album has 16 songs of pure LaFave grandeur. Cutting rock, savage blues, heartfelt ballads.....it's all here. Any songwriter would do themselves a favor by having this album grace their sacred collection of treasured favorites.
Two years on from the 2CD live retrospective "Trail" and four years after his last studio creation "Road Novel," LaFave returns with a mighty fine sixteen-track, self-produced studio collection that equally balances the number of covers and originals. The one from me, one from you principle.
In terms of reworking well-known or hit songs, LaFave is a master craftsman who rarely fails to make the cover his own. I saw LaFave and band perform Jimmy Webb's "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress" at The River Pub in San Marcos last September. Frankly, it was a revelation. Built on that memory it's been a hard road to hoe, over the intervening months, waiting for this disc to appear.
"Moon" is everything I expected, but darn if the guy hasn't recorded an even more stunning cover - an interpretation of Gretchen Peters' already classic "On A Bus To St. Cloud." The other covers include an up-tempo reading of the late John Phillip's hippie anthem "San Francisco," Bill Staines "Wind River Turnaround" and finally, one each from Jimmy's Okie buddies Greg Jacobs and Bob Childers [although, frankly Bob, I never did and never will really care whether "Elvis Loved His Mama"]. Oh yes, and let's not forget Jimmy's penchant for the tunes of this year's big six-o.
This time around it's "Emotionally Yours." As for the originals in this collection, Jimmy kicks off with the stomping rocker "Bad Bad Girl," but fear not reader, there's also a clutch of classy introspective LaFave ballads. "Never Is A Moment" is the first, and later there's the appropriately titled "Tears." Following on from the Bragg/Wilco effort "Mermaid Avenue," I'll swear that Nora Guthrie talked about passing a selection of her dad's lyrics to LaFave, the recording of a Woody/Jimmy album being the objective. Since then, nada. Silence. God knows Jimmy's Okie credentials aren't in doubt, and midway through this set he delivers a powerful reminder. "Red Dirt Song" is followed by the KO - "Woody Guthrie" - a heartfelt and personal recollection of a song-smith who restlessly sought new horizons.
So here's the message Nora - "We're waiting. Jimmy's your
man." A couple more thoughts before I go - let's hear it for the band -
Larry Wilson [guitar] and David Webb [keyboards] are back in the fold. As
for "Texoma" - great title, and a definite album of the year contender.
Available in your local record store now and by mail order from Southbound Records
Direct, P.O. Box 11912, Westhill, Aberdeenshire AB32 6GH and on the web at
Stateside, the recording is available from these online retailers
P.S. By the way, this year's six-o is his regal Bobness, Robert Zimmerman.
This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 3/01
"Kevin's Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
Mix a shot of Norman Vincent Peale with a generous splash of Jimmy Swaggert. Shake, then pour. Sip or swallow, you've got a Jimmy LaFave, equal parts reverent and raucous. LaFave's latest release continues his usual amalgamation of acoustic introspection and rocking good times, optimistic faith swimming with tales of elusive women and maybe a drop or two of whisky.
On "This Glorious Day," he's Peale to the hilt:
"Take the weight of the worldHe continues his optimism with the happiness-regardless-of-one's-wealth offering, "Poor Man's Dream":
Off your shoulders
And throw it away
Because miracles are happening
Every dream or treasure
That you're hoping to find
Is out there waiting for you
It's just a matter of time..."
"...Find peace and harmony"Red Dirt Songs" is in the same vein. LaFave, with a sly Dylan reference, opens with:
With the lay of the land
Stand beneath the big sky
And count all the stars
That you can
Take off your clothes
Jump in a clear running stream
Soon you'll be living
The poor man's dream"
"Persimmon wine, tupelo honeyHe also includes tributes to Woody Guthrie with a tune of the same name and to Elvis, with "Elvis Loved His Mama." The latter is played like a Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry collaboration.
I feel fine, don't need money
Sip a little wine, taste my honey
Bobby says you gotta serve somebody..."
"On The Road" is a rocker with a count-the-references appeal:
...Rolling ForkThe best song is the piano-backed "On a Bus to St. Cloud." Blanketed with regret, LaFave sings:
You're on the road
To rock and roll...
And you drive and drive
Across the great divide
On the road
To rock and roll
Running on empty
The road and the sky
Take it easy
As the miles fly by
You're on the road
To rock and roll"
"On a bus to St. Cloud, MinnesotaComposing over half the cuts here, he also adeptly takes songs written by others and stamps his ownership on them with his weathered, emotion-laden voice. His willingness to tackle "San Francisco" is a prime example. Written by the late John Phillips, this tune could easily slip into an overdose of schmaltz. Not with LaFave. Using a faster than usual rhythm, his vocals charm the listener.
I thought I saw you standing there
Snow falling all around you
Like a silent prayer...
...In a church in downtown New Orleans
I got down on my knees and prayed
I wept in the arms of Jesus
For the choice you made
We were just getting to the good part baby
Sliding past the mystery..."
So, now you have the answer the next time you're asked 'what's a Jimmy LaFave?'.
By John T. Davis
Special to the American-Statesman
Monday, April 30, 2001
Purists on both sides of the Red River will tell you that Texas is Texas, and Oklahoma is Oklahoma, and never the twain shall meet.
We've got Bonnie and Clyde, they'll tell you; they've got Pretty Boy Floyd.
We've got UT; they've got OU (featuring the best Texas players money can buy). We've got John Henry Faulk; they've got Will Rogers. We've got art museums; they've got the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
But both Sooners and Lone Stars can claim homeboy status for Gene Autry, Darrell Royal, Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie.
Oh yeah, we've also got Jimmy LaFave in common. LaFave lives and works in Austin. He's a singer-songwriter and a pretty dang good one. But he cut his musical teeth as a young man in Stillwater, Okla. In the past, he has referred to his body of work as "red dirt music," an homage to the iron oxide-laden soil that forms the llano. He likes it up there, he says, where there are real seasons, and you can see the weather coming from a long way off across the plains.
But LaFave was born in Texas, and he has spent his professional life trying to resolve the dichotomy of his origins. To that end, he's just released his sixth album, aptly titled "Texoma."
LaFave is a member of that Okie musical mafia that includes Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kevin Welch, Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks & Dunn), songwriter Bob Childers, Vince Gill, Kelly Willis and some guy named Garth Brooks, who used to sit in when LaFave took a night off from the Stillwater bar circuit.
The uninitiated might be surprised to learn the length and breadth of Oklahoma's musical history. Bob Wills brought Western Swing to national renown over the radio waves from Tulsa while he and the Texas Playboys held forth at Cain's Ballroom. Eric Clapton and Leon Russell both made small fortunes mining the funky/sultry groove of J.J. Cale and other Tulsa pickers. Reba McEntire is an Okie girl, as is rockabilly icon Wanda Jackson. Even pop singer Patti Page, guitarist Charlie Christian and doomed jazzman Chet Baker have Oklahoma roots.
". . . You look on the map, and Stillwater and Tulsa are right in the heart of Tornado Alley," LaFave said one day last week. He was sitting outdoors at Flipnotics coffeehouse, enjoying the rare sensation of stasis after being on tour for two weeks in the Midwest.
"There's a lot of kinetic energy flowing around up there. Plus, it was isolated enough that you had to make your own fun. The Lubbock guys (meaning West Texas musicians such as Joe Ely and Butch Hancock) are in tune with that."
LaFave's mom bought Jimmy his first guitar with books of S&H green stamps, and by the time he was a young man, making his own fun had evolved into working the circuit of college bars and beer joints that defined The Strip in downtown Stillwater.
The town, home to Oklahoma State University, is, by LaFave's account, a sort of microcosm of the Austin scene 30 years ago; a restless young audience, a vibrant musical community and a fertile club scene.
"All the musicians in Stillwater loved Austin music the best," he recalled. "Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark were big heroes up there."
So was LaFave. His friends all predicted that if anyone out of Stillwater were going to crack the big time, he would be the guy. "But," LaFave said without a trace of rancor, "I went to Austin, and Garth went to Nashville."
LaFave arrived in town in 1986 on the heels of a cosmically bad record deal that left him with an album in the can produced by Bob Johnston (whose résumé includes Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" and "Nashville Skyline," among others), but no way to release it. He first attracted notice as a balladeer at the late and lamented Chicago House, then, along with his band Night Tribe, he cultivated a rock fan base at La Zona Rosa and elsewhere.
The common denominator in both cases -- besides his career-long love affair with Dylan's catalog -- was his distinctive, quavering tenor ("How many Jimmy LaFaves does it take to change a lightbulb?" goes the local joke. Answer: "On-on-on-one . . .").
It is a powerful instrument, as distinctive and unmistakable a voice as Van Morrison's or Dylan's.
By the time his previous album, "Trails," was released, Oklahoma Today magazine was calling LaFave "a true link between Woody Guthrie and the rock tradition."
"I'd really like to drop a dime on Jimmy, but he just comes across as this roots-rock Dylan romantic, with a groovy voice. . .," says Ray Wylie Hubbard, who sounded a little disappointed that he was unable to contribute any scandalous tidbits about his fellow Okie troubadour.
"Jimmy's got this incredible voice," Hubbard continued, "but he's overlooked as a songwriter. His songwriting's just stellar, and it carries a lot of depth and weight . . . Then, too, he's also known as this rocker, and a great interpreter of Dylan songs, but the thing people miss is how funny he is. On stage, he comes across as this serious roots rocker with a romantic voice, but he's got a great sense of humor onstage."
Like his Texas and Oklahoma roots, the creative tension between the balladeer and the rocker is also a balance LaFave has had to maintain throughout his career. On "Texoma," he puts a personalized spin on Alvin Lee's chestnut, "Rock and Roll Music to the World" and injects a smoldering intensity on his own "Bad Bad Girl," "Poor Man's Dream" and "On the Road to Rock and Roll."
But it is a dreamy ballad that may emerge as "Texoma's" unexpected breakout hit. "Never Is a Moment" was written, as are many of LaFave's songs, on the road.
"When I'm driving down the highway, I carry a pocket recorder," he explained. "And I just hummed the melody into it. I was thinking that people could relate to being apart from their loved ones . . . There is something about the mood it sets up, with that chordal, tapping bass, then that beautiful piano (played by David Webb) comes in . . . I should try to analyze all the frequencies to see what's going on," he added with a laugh.
The song itself is deceptively slight, a meditation on separation, as it were. "Though you're dreams and miles away/I try to reach you through this night," he sings. "If you hear music in the wind/I hope my melody you'll find/Because there never is a moment/When you're not always on my mind . . ."
KGSR program director Jody Denberg described the song as a "phenomenon." "Jimmy first played the song for us at this year's (station) anniversary party," Denberg said. "Then he played it on the air with me at another point, and it just really struck me.
"When we finally got the album, there wasn't a single identified. So me and our music director, Susan Castle, spent a lot of time with the album, and that song just stuck out as one of those classic songs, like Willie doing `Always on My Mind.' We thought it was one of those songs that would just melt people, especially women."
Denberg said the phones lit up immediately after "Never Is a Moment" was added to the playlist, and they stayed lit. The response was extraordinary for a non-novelty tune. "People were telling me they were going to use it as a wedding song," he added. "It's a reaction song. People will call up and say, `Who's singing that?' " "I have to play it twice now in concert," LaFave said, shaking his head in wonderment. Which leads to the question: Would LaFave's comfortable, under-the-radar existence be compromised by the seismic shift that a big, commercial hit song could bring?
He seemed willing to find out. "It would be great to have a hit song," he said. "I like the idea of anything that gets my music out to people."
In the meantime, he feels as if he has the best of both worlds. "I get to live in Austin, but I get treated like an Okie when I get back up there."
By Kerry Dexter
Jimmy LaFave calls his latest record Texoma, a nod to his deep roots in the land and the music of both Texas and Oklahoma. "I think all geographical regions have a certain sound to them which comes out of the landscape," he says.
"You can almost hear the jazz when you're down in New Orleans, feel why that music came from down there," he continues. "If you're ever in the Delta, on Highway 61, you can feel why you'd play a blues progression when you're there. Texas is the same thing," he says, "and Oklahoma is an extension of that.
"There is a real spiritual attitude toward music among the people who live there," he says. "That's how I grew up learning about music, and this record is kind of a tribute to that." Far from the stereotypical Texas country twangsmith, LaFave evokes the landscape directly in the vivid images of his "Red Dirt Song" and pays tribute to another Okie musician in "Woody Guthrie."
"Growin' up in Oklahoma, you just automatically know a lot of Woody's songs," LaFave recalls, "and we used to go down to Okemah, were he was from, and hang out -- at that time the walls to his old homestead were still standing, but they're completely gone now." In recent years LaFave has been instrumental in starting the Woody Guthrie Festival, held each July in Okemah, and he was one of the headliners in A Texas Tribute to Woody Guthrie held last spring in Austin's historic Paramount Theater.
He also sees the Guthrie influence in how he approaches songwriting. "I do a lot of writing when I'm traveling, out on the road," he says. "I was on Amtrak last week, and when you see things out the window, it's sort of like you're watching a movie. You see two people talking on a corner, and you imagine what's going on, or you see a sign with a word you like. You get a kind of scope you can't get just sitting in your house, or sittin' in a room staring at another writer and tryin' to come up with ideas."
That's also part of what drew him to one of the songs he covers on Texoma, Gretchen Peters' "On a Bus to Saint Cloud." Peters' images of regret and redemption framed in flickering glimpses of a familiar face in a crowd in locales from Saint Cloud to New Orleans "is a brilliant song," LaFave says. "It's just beautifully written, and it's got that feeling about looking out the window as you're traveling and passing things ... I think Woody had a lot of that in his music, just getting out and ramblin' around, and that always works best for me." "'On a Bus to Saint Cloud,'" he adds, "is my favorite song to sing when we do live shows. I know Trisha Yearwood had a hit with it, but I decided that I was going to do it, too. It's a song more people should hear."
LaFave offers several other unexpected covers, including Jimmy Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," John Phillips' "San Francisco," and Bob Dylan's "Emotionally Yours." Webb, he points out, is also from Oklahoma. "I've always loved the melody of 'San Francisco,'" he says, "and there's sort of an Oklahoma connection -- my old keyboard player back in Stillwater used to be roommates with Scott McKenzie, who had the hit with the song." And Dylan? "Well, there's always Dylan," he says, laughing. "Dylan is just such a huge influence on me too, definitely up there at the top."
While he was living in Stillwater, Okla., LaFave crossed paths with another budding musician. "Garth [Brooks] came up here to college on a track scholarship," he says, "and he had a gig on Wednesday nights where the frat boys would all go hear him play cover tunes. Stillwater was about 40,000 people at that time, and about half of those were students, so it was a good town to play music. The guy who had the first studio in town was Steve Ripley of the Tractors. I sometimes joke with my Austin friends that between Garth and Steve Ripley, I'll bet Stillwater has sold more records than the whole Austin scene put together," he says, laughing.
"Coming out of Stillwater, Garth went to Nashville and I went to Austin, and look what happened!" LaFave jokes. "I almost did move to Nashville, but at the last minute I decided no, I'm goin' to Austin. And I've never regretted it. That's what this record is really about, to celebrate the time I've spent in Texas and Oklahoma, and the sound of the music here."
Week of March 13-27, 2001
da Flower Punk
Week of March 13-27, 2001
da Flower Punk
More proof that the red dirt lands of
Oklahoma produce more than their share of
musicians. Jimmy LaFave is a songwriter
vocalist who works the alt-country, roots
and pop ballad landscapes. LaFave's voice
be honey smooth, as on two of the
covers here, Bob Dylan's "Emotionally
and John Phillips' Summer Of Love
Francisco." He can also be gritty, down
dirty, as on the Tulsa-style rockers
Man," "Poor Man's Dream," and the LaFave
original that sounds like a classic
straight out of
the J.J. Cale catalogue, "Bad Bad Girl."
tendency towards slick production values
overdone on a track or two, but overall
this is a
very satisfying alt-country album.
In a world of manufactured stars and soulless singers, Jimmy LaFave stands as testimony to the redemptive power of rock 'n' roll. LaFave is one of rock's best singers _ certainly its finest ballad singer _ with a >>voice that can swoop, dart, glide or knock you on your butt.
On "Texoma," LaFave mixes nine of his own fine songs with several covers, including an oddly wonderful version of the old flower child anthem "San Francisco." LaFave finds a bluesy groove on "Bad, Bad Girl" and "Poor Man's Dream," and gets downright exuberant on "This Glorious Day," with help from the fabulous Burns Sisters on vocals.
LaFave's red dirt rock just gets better with age, and he pours his
heart and soul into the ballads. "Texoma" captures this musical treasure
at his best.
Eric Fidler, AP Writer
Jimmy LaFave built his reputation as an interrupter of Dylan songs and as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter from the Austin music scene. On his sixth album, Texoma, he is joined by a talented band and some excellent background singers (the Burns Sisters). The material features a number of covers and originals, and ranges from the quiet "Never Is There a Moment" to the slow rocking blues of "Bad Bad Girl." "Woody Guthrie" is a folk-tribute to an idol, with a soulful vocal and some nice dobro by Larry Wilson. There is a fresh take on John Phillips' classic, "San Francisco," and an upbeat "This Glorious Day," a song full of hope and joy. "Elvis Loved His Mama" may remind the listener more of Jerry Lee Lewis than the King, but either way the song works as a quirky, funny homage to the roots of rock & roll. Glancing at other titles like "Rock and Roll Music to the World" and "On the Road to Rock and Roll," one might gather that while LaFave is a clever songwriter, he also enjoys a little straightforward Memphis rock & roll. This roots approach is also given its due when it comes to LaFave's considerable guitar skills. "Emotionally Yours" is the obligatory Dylan song, and it's nice that LaFave chose a less recognized — and less cliche — song from the master. Texoma is fine release, filled with good songs, fitting arrangements, and country soul. LaFave's fans and followers of the Texas country-folk scene should enjoy this one.
Jimmy LaFave pulls off a remarkable effort with his newest release
Texoma. In order to appreciate the music you must first love Texas
music. Even though the title would make you think this is a dedication
album, it is not. There are no patriotic songs about Texas or Oklahoma
anywhere to be found. There are some songs so beautiful you almost have
to stop and dance with the wife/girlfriend/whatever. Then some of the
songs are so rockin' you forget that you were just feeling all gushy
from the song before. There is pretty much something for everyone on
Texoma. The title is extremely misleading, the more I listen to the CD
the more it sounds like a soundtrack for Austin. Jimmy LaFave kicks ass
once again, not spending enough time to take names along the way. He
does, however, get the initials.
With Texoma - as in Texas and Oklahoma, the two places that have shaped him - Jimmy LaFave continues the balancing act that has served him so well for many years. That is, he manages to be a smooth, earnest balladeer and raucous roadhouse rocker, a fine songwriter and a masterful interpreter.
Everything hinges on LaFave's sweetly grainy voice, one of the best-sounding and most expressive you'll ever hear. Just listen to the fresh layers of feeling the Austin, Texas, singer adds to Gretchen Peters' "On a Bus to St. Cloud" and Dylan's "Emotionally Yours", or the bluesy gusto he injects into his own "Poor Man's Dream." Other numbers, such as the uplifting "This Glorious Day" and the vaguely menacing "Patient Man," neatly fill in the areas between the rocker-balladeer extremes.
The 16-song set could afford to be shorter - the hippie-era relic "San Francisco" didn't need to be resurrected, and his "Woody Guthrie" is perhaps a too-reverent tribute - but on the whole, Texoma is another strong effort from a rocker with an over-abundance of heart.
By C. Bottomley
"You mean so much to me/ Your music and spirit carry me/ Through the darkest of nights." When you sing a line like that, you'd better make it stick. Especially when you're singing to Woody Guthrie. Austin-based singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave just about pulls it off.
LaFave originally hails from Stillwater, Okla. - hence the record's title melding the two states' names - but has a reputation as a barroom interpreter, singing in a clear tenor with enough broom-scrape at the bottom to prevent anyone from calling him "slick."
His own hardscrabble muse has floored it on this album-cum-calling card, with originals "This Glorious Day" and the aforementioned "Woody Guthrie" standing proud alongside covers of Alvin Lee (a rollicking "Rock and Roll Music to the World") and Scott McKenzie (a capable "San Francisco"). Backed by David Webb's organ and a rousing band, LaFave sounds like a dark night gone good. And on Dylan's "Emotionally Yours," he proves plainly that music and spirit are two things he well understands.
"This place has been here 20 years, though I hear they want to turn it into a Bennigans," quipped Jimmy La Fave, a musician-songwriter who defines the Texas sound, which, of course, can't be defined; it manages to encompass a range from rock out of the roadhouse to blues to country without really being any of them.
La Fave is one of those Austin staples, the journeyman who crafts songs like a artisan, but they're not decorative in the least. He can reach the anthem spirit and also tap sorrow, with an evocative tenor. His cover choices also speak volumes, opening his 40 minutes onstage with a delicate reading of Dylan's "Emotionally Yours" and later turning to Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home," for a swipe at the new presidential administration (to applause) and closing with a torrential "I'm Goin' Down" (shades of the now-ancient Jeff Beck Group). Most definitely Texas music.
If Memphis was the epicenter of southern grace, a locale where genteel became a way of life and the earth gave of itself gladly, then the dirt fields of northern Texas up into Oklahoma might be the place where that well of kindness dried up like a flower in the sun. Yet out of that harshness has come a resolve and determination of spirit that is unmistakable in its intensity. No artist better exemplifies that conviction of strength than does LaFave, possessor of one of the purest and most haunting voices this side of heaven.
A native of West Point,Texas, Lafave grew up listening to the music of the region, discovering Woody Guthrie at an early age and finding Guthrie, as so many have, a springboard to more contemporary muses. “Texoma” represents the culmination of a journey that took LaFave to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and back down to Austin. A journey not so much of geography but of the heart, following his own while listening to the beat of others. What results is a work of radiance and strength, songs that sit at the crossroads of what it means to be lost and found again. From the joyous redemption of “Rock And Roll Music To The World” and “On The Road To Rock And Roll” which quotes wryly writers from Jackson Browne to Springsteen, to the angst and loneliness of “Bus From St. Cloud”, LaFave reaches for the depths of his own humanity and comes up stronger every time.
“Woody Guthrie” is a plaintive devotion to the man with whom it all began, song in a mournful tone that seems impossible to have come from a mere mortal. Cover songs range from a lilting take of Dylan's “Emotionally Yours” to a faithful rendering of “San Francisco”, made all the more poignant by the recent death of its author. I didn't think it was possible to breathe new life into Jimmy Webb’s classic “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, surely one of the most flawless songs every written, yet perhaps a victim of its own familiarity.
LaFave not only rediscovers the nuance and elegance within, he imbues the words with a newly found passion and heroism. He is a truly gifted interpreter, able to make the words and music of others his own while retaining the uniqueness of what every great artist carries.
He is also himself a writer of depth and intellect, sharing of himself with an honesty that can only come from the soul. It would also be remiss to not give credit to the musicians LaFave has chosen to share his vision. Each one adds a layer of commitment and talent to an already rich tapestry.
Seventeen songs, each a sophisticated and beautiful gem, cut with care
and polished with love. Individually they represent music at its most
breathtaking and merciful. Taken as a whole they are as sweeping and
powerful a testament to the glory of voice and heart as this listener
has heard in many a day. Texoma gets only the second four star review I
have even given. It is all that and more, rendering any words of
description all but meaningless.
Jimmy LaFave is a vocal stylist with songwriter sensibilities. On his first studio album in four years, he glides easily from his own topnotch material to well-chosen covers.
Conceived as a musical tribute to the uneasy but undeniable relationship between Texas and Oklahoma, the ambitious Texoma succeeds on many levels. On the blues-tinged side of the equation, there's "Patient Man"; for smoldering funk, go directly to "Bad Bad Girl." "Poor Man's Dream" and "Red Dirt Song" tout the joys of the simple life via a blues rave-up and country shuffle, respectively. Tulsa-style rockers like "Elvis Loved His Mama" are counterbalanced by spare, gorgeous ballads like "Never Is a Moment."
Among the covers, a searing rendition of Bob Dylan's "Emotionally Yours" and a surprisingly effective take on John Phillips' "San Francisco" work very well. A soulful -- if somewhat eccentric -- vocalist, LaFave occasional drifts into self-indulgence in the production department. Still, he swings for the fence and, for the most part, knocks the ball out of the park.
LaFave is one of the best singer/songwriters working today. Trouble is, most people don't know it 'cause they've never heard him. He's been making music for the last 20 years and releasing strong records for the last ten. Texoma, his sixth record, and first studio LP in early four years, keeps his no-duds string alive.
It opens with "Bad Bad Girl," a smoky blues number with some smoldering guitar from Larry Wilson. And as good as Wilson and the rest of the band are (very), it's keyboardist David Webb who really shines as the instrumental star throughout. Just check out "Wind River Turnaround," the instro intro to "On A Bus To St. Cloud," for proof.
But, even with that sort of stellar backing, this is LaFave's show. He may look like Leon from Blade Runner (the replicant played by late character actor Brion James), but he has a wonderfully soulful voice; a stirring and affecting blend of rasp, smoke, and passion that he uses to terrific effect. The slow numbers in particular benefit from his masterful singing. He combines rock, soul, C&W, folk, and blues into his own, unique blend.
His version of John Phillips' "San Francisco" is not the hippie invitation that Scott McKenzie's hit version was. LaFave's is more of an aching farewell. On the other had, "This Glorious Day" will put a spring in your step faster than a crisp autumn day where you fall in love and win the lottery. "Poor Man's Dream" is some very greasy roadhouse, and the Stonesy cruncher "Rock And Roll Music To The World," an Alvin Lee cover, is a virtual Texas/Oklahoma roll call of rockers, though, much as I like him, I never considered Chet Baker a rocker. Willie Nelson, OK, but not Chet. "Woody Guthrie" recalls Dylan's "Forever Young" a bit, but that detracts from its impact in no way. And the requisite Zimmy cover (LaFave has practically made a second career of covering Dylan, having released nearly two dozen of his Bobness' tunes) is a tender version of "Emotionally Yours." It's pretty easy to end up looking the fool when covering Jimmy Webb, but LaFave has no problems with the impenetrable "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress."
It's unfathomable how a man that puts out records this good ands this consistently is not better known. Well, nobody's gonna be able to say that I didn't tell ya!
Well, we come from down in Texoma
Jimmy LaFave has cribbed the title of his latest record from the opening line of Alvin Lee's 'Rock and Roll Music to the World.' So in case you are one of those types who needs to be clubbed over the head with any intended subtleties, let there be no mistake about it: Jimmy LaFave has one foot in Texas and one foot in Oklahoma.
Okemah to Stillwater
With all the current hoo-hah about "Texas music" and the "Texas sound," Austin-based, Wills Point, Texas-born LaFave may be one of Texas music's best kept secrets, although he's no secret at all in Oklahoma where he's been treated like a state treasure since he broke onto the Stillwater music scene back in the days when Garth Brooks used to open for him. On "Texoma," LaFave sticks close to home, recording in Austin with his regular sidekicks. The result is one of those honest, instantly familiar records that you'll be singing along with the second time you play it and will still be playing years from now.
LaFave is one of those rare artists who can paint a masterpiece with the smallest box of crayons. Reunited in the studio with guitarist Larry Wilson, LaFave has produced 16 meaty tracks that, like all LaFave albums, is a mix of rockers and ballads, originals and covers, funk and finesse, big cities and red dirt roads, rockin' roadhouses and contemplative coffee shops. Eschewing all but the production basics, LaFave has constructed a record with numerous textures, tones and moods, yet a record that lacks any sense of artsy overproduction.
I heard the opening song, 'Bad Bad Girl,' while driving to work one day last week and was knocked out. I've long been an admirer of LaFave's work, but I had never heard him in quite this "super-cool" mode. On 'Bad Bad Girl', LaFave tips his stylistic and compositional hat to a fellow Texoman, gravelly voiced blues man J.J. Cale. A mid-tempo blues, the treatment echoes Cale with minimalist laconic vocals, a dark, full bottom within a narrow groove, and Wilson's sparse, biting slide guitar for accent. The song's subject female is one of those "bad bad girls" we can't seem to leave alone, no matter the calamities she leaves in her wake. LaFave paints her for us in various situations and locales, but whether it's New York City or Chicago or Dallas or simply home in bed, "she gets in trouble every day."
She went down to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras time
Perhaps the most engaging and surprising cut on the record is LaFave's reinvention of the old hippie anthem, 'San Francisco' (you know, "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure and wear some flowers in your hair, that 'San Francisco'). LaFave has altered the phrasings and upped the tempo, allowing bassist Will Landin and drummer Eric Hanson to drive the song while LaFave (rhythm guitar), Wilson and pianist David Webb airily color in the spaces. This track is rocking, but the sound is nimble and clean, making the track seem light on its feet. If this track won't put a smile on your face before the first chorus comes around, refill your Prozac prescription and get back to us.
LaFave keeps the feel-good, throw-away-the-Prozac vibe going with another original composition, 'This Glorious Day.' One of the few times LaFave reaches into the producer's bag of tricks on the record, he adds just the right hint of gospel music by adding the Burns Sisters on backing vocals. The sound is full and sweet.
"Poor Man's Dream" is an Allman Brothers style blues-rocker, with Wilson playing some southern boogie slide guitar and LaFave doing some of his usual red dirt philosophizing:
Find a little country angel, love her on up
LaFave lets Webb have the reins on the boogie-woogie novelty number, 'Elvis Loved His Mama,' and Webb shows he can hang with anyone when it comes to rocking barrelhouse piano pounding. With the Burns Sisters on beehive-hairdo'd, hoop-skirt-wearin' backing vocals again and Landin free to walk his bass, this infectious, tongue in cheek cut really rocks.
On the packed full of meaning ballad 'Woody Guthrie,' LaFave pays tribute to the old Dust Bowl political minstrel and Oklahoma musical legend.
You speak out of turn
Much of "Texoma" is essentially an uptempo, good-vibes, no-more-Prozac, rocking record, but when LaFave slips into that sad, sentimental love song mode, whether he's singing an original composition or covering some of the more sophisticated works of great songwriters, get out your crying towels and be ready to lose your lover. LaFave has always been a clever wordsmith and he's never been in better form than on the soft, poignant 'Never Is a Moment.'
If you hear music in the wind
As good as LaFave's original works have been through five previous albums, he may be best known as an interpreter, and no Jimmy LaFave record would be complete without a Bob Dylan cover. Never one to pick an obvious or easy tune to work with, LaFave has seldom been in better form than on the brooding and delicately accented 'Emotionally Yours.' Webb's piano playing is again superb.
In his rendition of Nashville songwriter Gretchen Peters' 'On a Bus to St. Cloud,' (originally recorded by Trisha Yearwood) with Webb playing a quiet but dramatic piano line, LaFave emotes a from-me-to-you, one-on-one feel that even the highly talented Yearwood failed to achieve on her version. LaFave has an uncanny ability to climb inside an emotionally charged ballad and hit all the necessary aural buttons required to deliver a convincing performance.
For a final act, LaFave and Webb revive the obscure and hard to tame Jimmy Webb tune, 'The Moon's a Harsh Mistress.' LaFave's voice combines the requisite prettiness for such a song and a world-weary rasp absolutely perfect for mining the emotional depths of Webb's composition without letting the performance become a sappy, overwrought, overacted, Streisandish. As the last track on the cd, the tune, with its sparse and haunting piano outro, makes a perfect denouement to the record. As the last piano note fades, the silence seems to add profundity and weight to the musical performance.
Nowadays, LaFave is probably a bigger "star" in
Europe than he is here in his home state -- and that is wrong,
wrong, wrong. The man has monumental talents as a singer, as
a songwriter, as an interpreter of other writers' work, as a
player, and as a producer, and all these are on display on the
He handles a heartfelt ballad with ease, simplicity and infinite
grace. And on rockers, well, he rocks with the best.
Back in the days of vinyl, this would have been a double album.
At sixteen tracks and 62 minutes, this may be more music than
the average attention span can handle. It is certainly more
quality music than we probably have a right to buy on one cd
for $15. But if there was ever an artist intent on delivering
the highest quality, lyrically fulfilling product, it is Mr.
LaFave. While I loved the live, rough, bootlegged sound of
his previous release, "Trail," this is LaFave's best
studio record yet.
Contact William Michael Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org
An Austin arrangement of artists
By Michael Corcoran
March 16, 2000
Willie Nelson wasn't there. Also out of town were Jimmy Vaughan and Charlie Sexton. But almost 130 prominent Austin musicians did show up at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue on Town Lake for a group portrait Wednesday afternoon.
"A Great Day in Austin," shot by Andrew Yates in homage to a famous 1958 photograh of prominent jazz musicians in Harlem, will run in the May issue of Texas Monthly magazine.
"Man this is big," said Fastball's Miles Ziniga when he saw Lee Roy Parnell and Abra Moore chatting with Billy Gibbons, just as Shawn Colvin rode by on her bike. "I thought it was going to be like Kelly Willis and the guys I play softball wtih."
The musicians were chosen by the magazine's staff based on their contribution to Austin music, which led to some heated lobbying when the invitations were sent three weeks ago.
"We kept getting calls like, 'Why wasn't so-and-so invited?'" deputy editor and shoot ringleader Evan Smith said. "But we simply had to cut it off at a certain point."
That's what Cathy Casey heard when she complained that her stepson's band, Pushmonkey, one of the few Austin acts with a major label deal, was omitted. But as special projects editor for Texas Monthly, Casey took the rejection in stride and helped assemble the project.
A few artists who weren't asked to be in the picture showed up anyway. Wayne "the Train" Hancock was unapologetic about his shoot-crashing. "I know I aint invited," he said.
"It's a good thing they're having this outdoors," cracked Mark Rubin of Bad Livers. "No room could contain all these ego's."
But for the most part, the session had the feel of a music scene reunion. Or a funeral with food.
It's amazing to see all these people together in the daylight and nobody died," onlooker T.J. McFarland said.