Some artists who evoke the styles of the past seem to have spent every waking moment of their adult lives struggling to sound as if they were born in a different decade. Pokey LaFarge, on the other hand, makes music that suggests he somehow passed through a wrinkle in time from 1929 to 2015, complete with his banjo in hand; LaFarge's music never seems forced, but flows from him naturally with an easy grace, a playful insouciance, and a confidence in his talent that stops well short of arrogance. After jumping to the big leagues with his self-titled 2013 album released by Jack White's Third Man label, LaFarge has ambled back to the independents; Something in the Water is his first album for Rounder, the venerable roots music label, but Something ranks with his best recorded work to date, maintaining the rootsy sway and swagger of his earlier albums but boasting stronger instrumental interplay and an extra dose of pep that makes the finished product especially winning. LaFarge not only sounds like a jazzbo from the age of ragtime, he writes like one, and from the vintage exotica of "Goodbye, Barcelona" and his celebration of Midwestern high life in "Knockin' the Dust Off the Rust Belt Tonight" to his tribute to the women you don't introduce to your mother on "Bad Girl" and the title cut, LaFarge pens songs with plenty of wit and a melodic sense that straddles the gap between vintage country and trad jazz. LaFarge is lucky enough to have a band just as committed to this sound as he is, and his accompanists help make Something in the Water pleasingly full bodied and dynamic. And producer Jimmy Sutton gives these sessions a live-in-the-studio tone that mimics the ambience of a vintage 78, but with modern-day clarity and detail. Pokey LaFarge delivers something old and new on Something in the Water, and no matter how much he reaches to the past for inspiration and influence, he's able to make his music sound fresh and alive, and this is his strongest studio set to date.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming