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First Play: Pokey LaFarge, Manic Revelations

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Andrea Gin

It’s easy to feel a little discombobulated while listening to Pokey LaFarge’s latest album, Manic Revelations. The St. Louis, Missouri-based singer-songwriter is known for his vintage sound — a toe-tapping mix of Western swing, jazz, blues and more — but this album finds him mixing these musical references to the past with lyrical concerns that are firmly rooted in the present.

LaFarge wastes no time starting the conversation, kicking the album off with the song “Riot in the Streets,” which was written about the racial tension that followed the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Miss.

“It is a tough thing to write about, but as a citizen of St. Louis and as an artist, I had to say something," he said via press release. "Hopefully this song does more good than bad and, ultimately, gets the dialogue started. Although it’s also important to not forget the peaceful protests and those that spread the message of love in the pursuit of justice and equality, this particular song is about people being marginalized and brought to the brink. It was only a matter of time before they fight back. I hope you feel that tension in the song — even from the first bass click.”

LaFarge released his debut album in 2006, and has put out seven studio albums since, including 2015’s Something in the Water. He’s toured with Jack White and also appears on CMT's new original TV series, Sun Records, starring as Canadian country music artist Hank Snow. Watching his live in-studio video for the second single from his album, “Better Than Me,” one gets the feeling that playing the country legend in the 1950s is not a big stretch.

While "Riot in the Streets" is his biggest political statement on the album, it seems that referencing current events in songwriting is something LaFarge will continue to explore.

“The manic revelation is the state where artists create,” he says. “I got to the point in writing these songs where I felt like a house on fire that just kept burning. This album is about confronting yourself. It’s about confronting your city, its relation with the world, and all its people.”

Manic Revelations will be released on May 19 via Rounder Records. Pre-order it here. Pokey LaFarge will also soon embark on an extensive summer tour of North America with dates in Toronto and Ottawa.