Pokey LaFarge

Manic Revelations

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AllMusic Review by

At the end of Manic Revelations, Pokey LaFarge sings "I will never change" -- a sentiment that he's spent the entirety of his sixth studio set disproving. Ditching the old-timey routine that's been his stock in trade since 2008, LaFarge embraces the open-hearted soul of the '60s, a sound that's nearly as retro as the pre-WWII folk, country, and jazz that populated his earlier albums. The shift in sound was propelled by his outrage over the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of his hometown of St. Louis. Tying this political unrest to the civil rights movement of the '60s, the musician decided a revival of classic soul was the best vehicle for his message. Manic Revelations does benefit from its hopping swing and full-blooded horn section, which gives the record a considerable kinetic kick. LaFarge's reedy voice can sometimes produce a wave of cognitive dissonance -- he's still singing like he's supporting himself with a banjo -- but there are also moments where the two aesthetics merge seamlessly. With its muted trumpet wails and spooky Cab Calloway shuffle, "Mother Nature" walks a fine line between prohibition and juke joint blues, while "Good Luck Charm" is a jaunty folk number punched up by the horn section. Such hybrids speak to LaFarge's musical invention, but don't forget that, at its heart, Manic Revelations is a protest album. He may evoke old sounds but all his songs are about the present, and that means Manic Revelations isn't a stylistic exercise: it's compelling commentary.

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