The UK shows of Jimmy LaFave last year would have been a rare treat to see one of the prime exponents of American roots music on this side of the pond. In the absence of more planned visits, the release of his new album THE NIGHT TRIBE is a distinguished effort to fill the void. With its nocturnal inspiration, the record starts out as a tribute to a way of life lauding the stalwarts of the night economy and synching them with the fruits of his most productive hours in terms of idea generation and impetus. This scholarly album may have been made for the early hours but it transcends into a fixation of 24 hour appreciation.
Not one for short measures, LaFave delivers a full on project, heavy on sound, packed with passion and soulful in sophistication. This is seasoned Americana in epic portions and is bang on target to drive home a reputation found on decades of experience, ascended levels of association and an enormous amount of respect. Of the record’s thirteen tracks, LaFave pens ten from the heart, one from an unfinished effort and re-works two from the greats in impeccable style. Edging the cover versions is an inspirational rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Journey Through the Past’, delivered in a much softer style than a hardened take on Dylan’s ‘Queen Jane Approximately’.
On an album ripe with potential standout tracks, the glorious second song ‘Maybe’ stakes the greatest claim with excellent piano pieces decorating an effort lush with choral elegance. On a more roots-induced level, ‘Dust Bowl Okies’ is a cocktail of rollicking good sounds aiding LaFave’s homage to a State where he spent his formative musical years and the home of his hero Woody Guthrie. The standing of Jimmy LaFave in American roots music has led to him to being a vital ingredient in the ongoing movement to celebrate the life and works of the nation’s finest troubadour.
There are several pinch points on the record where the organ comes to the forefront to inject a welcome dose of subtle soul. This is especially prevalent in the opening and closing tracks of ‘The Beauty of You’ and ‘The Roads of the Earth’, both successful in pulling off the role of their positional places. Elsewhere LaFave perfectly executes the tender sound in the delicate number ‘Smile’, while the transfixing appeal of ‘Island’ reveals absolute elegance in both words and music. ‘Talk to an Angel’ was a Kelcy Warren work –in-progress song that benefitted from an act of artistic completion with the attached string accompaniment making it orchestral in parts.
The album’s name, as well as being the record’s theme, is also a band title LaFave has regularly used over the years and he re-activated the tag for last year’s cross-Atlantic trip. The track to feature the name on this record simmers with bleary eyed majesty and is the ideal backdrop to a witching hour so often the clear canvas for the creative generation to exploit their inner talent. Elsewhere on the album, the unhurried style of ‘It’s Not Only Me’ adds more panache to an impressive opening bunch of songs intent on raising the standard of sheer musicianship. ‘Trying to Get Back to You’ sees LaFave in more semi-rock mode and this comprehensive record is completed by ‘Never Came Back to Memphis’, a number that repeated plays suggest just falls a little behind the album’s best.
Quite simply Jimmy LaFave is in stunning form to record an enriched album and the entity of THE NIGHT TRIBE is a blueprint to how the ideals of Americana song writing and sound creation are to be brought to fruition. Laid back, enthralling and accomplished sum up the work of Jimmy LaFave and this excellent record encompasses all three traits in its journey from studio to available package.