Jimmy LaFave has been such an integral part of the Texas folk-rock singer-songwriter scene for the past decade that it's easy to take him for granted. He's become a part, if you will, of the furniture in Lone Star State listening rooms. But he's also like a favorite easy chair, and when you settle in with his music yet again, the level of comfort and familiarity is quite seductive.
For a while LaFave himself was taking the easy way in his music, relying on his gifts as an expressive singer, a skillful songwriter and an interpreter who can inhabit the compositions of others as if he wrote them. But earlier this year, he stepped up to the plate with Texoma. This CD proved that LaFave can not only get on base when he comes to bat but also hit a few out of the park.
Texoma is the mythical realm where the Texas-born, Oklahoma-reared LaFave makes his music. It's a wide-open territory where the soil is rich and the topography shifts from plains to hills to forests. On Texoma, the album, LaFave ranges across similarly wide territory. Some of it is familiar to his listeners, like the almost obligatory cover of a Dylan song. Yet his choice, "Emotionally Yours," shines light on one of the master's lesser-known gems, and LaFave's treatment polishes up the lyrics so they shine in the sunlight he brings to them. Another cover, "San Francisco," is a less obvious, if not eccentric, choice. The song by the late John Phillips, which was a hit for Scott McKenzie, signaled the end of the '60s by reducing the decade's spirit to a cliché. Yet LaFave takes the number and invests it with both a nostalgia for those bygone times and the millennial zeitgeist. That feat, my friends, requires the work of a genuine singer indeed.
On Texoma, he also matches the covers with some of his best originals. And as much as he traffics in real emotion, he also cuts loose for some zippy fun with Alvin Lee's "Rock and Roll Music to the World" and "Elvis Loved His Mama."
LaFave makes music that's meant to be savored rather than ingested, but sadly, his sense of quality doesn't make him a hot commodity these days. In the genuine coin of music's realm, however, he's a rich man indeed. And you come away from a LaFave show feeling like you've gained something that has an enduring value.
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