Free Dirt Records Releases ‘Riverboat Soul,’ A Collection Of Riverboat Ragtime Jugband Mayhem From Pokey Lafarge & The South City Three On February 16, 2010


On February 16, 2010, Free Dirt Records will release the new album from Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three, “Riverboat Soul.” From the first listen, the significance of this title is clear. The Mississippi River runs as an undercurrent through this collection of songs, a tribute to the ragtime and jug band influences of St. Louis, Missouri, the city LaFarge has most recently called home. LaFarge is a neo-hobo, constantly traveling across the country and drawing inspiration from early American roots music. But it’s more than his persona that’s turning heads; it’s the unique blend of raw talent and refined, idiosyncratic charm that’s turned reviewers into poets as they attempt to label the one-of-a-kind sound of Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three. While their music may summon the likes of Blind Blake, Dan Hicks, or Leon Redbone, and may be a fitting soundtrack to R. Crumb’s comics, don’t call it old-timey. Pokey and the South City Three are here to grace our electric world with their uniquely retro sound, throwback and rough around the edges featuring parlor guitar, guitjo (a guitar-tuned six-string banjo) kazoo and harmonica, but all with a modern twist.

Recorded in July 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee with production by Phil Harris, “Riverboat Soul” is a new sort of venture for LaFarge. While his first two albums were solo outings, the new release on American roots label Free Dirt Records out of Takoma Park, Maryland (The Wilders, Axton Kincaid) features the styles of some seriously talented musicians: Ryan “Churchmouse” Koenig (harmonica, washboard, vocals), Adam Hoskins (Guitar and vocals) and Joey Glynn (upright bass and vocals). Together, they complete The South City Three. In addition, the album features old pals Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show), Tommy Oliviero (Bawn in the Mash) and Travis Stinson joining in on the fun.

“I know that you’ve heard this old song sung before” begins LaFarge on the lead track “La La Blues.” The moment you first hear those opening notes, you can tell right away that “Riverboat Soul” is a alluring duality of authentic, vintage throwback, modern day creativity and unique style. At a crossroads where Brownie McGhee, Bessie Smith, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Townes Van Zandt intersect, the songs on “Riverboat Soul” are influenced by all that Pokey admires from bygone days, yet turn out to be a wonderfully fresh and quirky kind of pop that combines delta-meets-Appalachia writing with a big, big swingin’ beat. No wonder it’s so incredibly difficult to classify this recording. Lovers of blues, country, old-time, bluegrass, or 21st century roots rock are sure be wowed by “Riverboat Soul” and astonished by what Pokey and the South City Three have to offer.

LaFarge and his band may be difficult to classify, but don’t mistake that for a lack of intensity or energy in the studio or on stage. Rest assured, “Riverboat Soul” has got plenty of it. Whether it’s the driving, commanding performance on the traditional “Sweet Potato Blues,” or the up-tempo song-story of the original “Claude Jones,” LaFarge can really get you moving. Yet he can also slow things down for you at just the right time with a deeply heartfelt song, as he demonstrates on “Bag of Bones.” And of course, this get-up-and-go tempo mixed with LaFarge’s uncanny ability for intuiting a listener’s needs shines through on stage. “One thing that’s happened is the new material is being written for a bigger sound with more vocals from my compadres, who all like to join in and make a joyful racket” reveals LaFarge. “It’s all worked out pretty well. We’ve got to know each other like brothers and to understand how to get the best from the performance both live and in the studio.”

Just 26 years old, Pokey has been hitching through the countryside and whisking off to faraway lands with different projects since he was 18, including a stint playing mandolin with the Virginia based group the Hackensaw Boys. Following the release of his 2007 debut album, Marmalade, he landed a main stage slot at the top annual roots music bash, Pickathon, in Portland, Oregon, where he was widely regarded as one of the standout acts of the event. In 2008, Pokey put out his follow-up solo album, “Beat, Move & Shake” on Big Muddy Records. But it was last year, having found his sweet spot with the other members of The South City Three, that Pokey hit the road and began to tour at a mind-spinning pace, quickly winning over crowds throughout America and Europe and appearing with acts such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Hackensaw Boys, Avett Brothers, Donna the Buffalo, Special Ed and the Shortbus (The Hot Seats), Woody Pines, the Two Man Gentleman Band, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

When the Pokey LaFarge traveling show glides into town, the ladies swoon and legions of new fans fall for his unique brand of songcraft, sharp personality, whiz-bang guitar pickin’ and natty line in showmanship. His first solo UK tour in the summer of 2009 included sell-out performances at Edinburgh Festival and led to a rush of reviews heaping praise on the power of the performance. According to influential magazine The List: “When you hear the ragged glories he knocks out on his acoustic six-string you know there’s more than just showbiz glitz to this critter. Like all genii, there’s a little bit of madness in there too, and LaFarge is a sweet singer and a dexterous instrumentalist– harmonica, guitar, banjo and kazoo all take a beating– as he throws out a timeless sound that could date from any period in the last 80 years. Go, be delighted.”

And with Pokey and his crew clicking so well both in the studio and on stage, there’s certainly no chance of LaFarge stopping his breakneck touring pace, which equates to roughly 200 performance dates a year. “Each gig’s a celebration,” explains LaFarge. “We like it when the girls get up to twirl their skirts and the fellas stomp their feet and clap their hands.”

Spread the news: Pokey and The South City Three will indeed be rolling through a town near you in 2010.

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Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 10:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

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