Veteran Austin roots-rocker Jimmy LaFave is one of those rare guys who could sing selected passages from the Sears catalog and bring a grateful tear to your eye. His crystalline tenor conveys so much transparent emotion that it grants poignancy to sentiments that might ring trite or hackneyed otherwise. Likewise, the songwriter/guitarist has a knack for crafting simple, melodic jewels of pure feeling that don't need to rely on fancy word play to dial in crisp and clear.
LaFave's gift for earnest, barebones expression serves him very well on Cimarron Manifesto, a son of the Oklahoma prairie's moving tribute to his native turf that reaches across state lines to reveal a deep bond with the sprawling American landscape at-large and its people and traditions. Yes, the irresistible lure of the wide open road and its perils and possibilities have been written and sung about countless times before, but never with more authentic wonder than LaFave brings to "Car Outside," or his dreamy, incandescent take on Donovan's "Catch the Wind."
Right in line with the Bohemian cowboy persona (think Guthrie and Kerouac) that LaFave has cultivated over the years, he tempers the celebration with Beat sorrow over the compromised foundation values that stain an era of aimless conflict overseas and eroding social structures at home.None of Cimarron's dozen songs better relays LaFave's core message than his gorgeous version of "Not Dark Yet," which transforms Bob Dylan's spooky hymn of resignation into an aching plea for deliverance. Only a bona fide pro messes with a master's best and makes it his own, and LaFave packs the vision and cojones to pull it off.
Refreshingly, this is one manifesto that also knows when to lighten up and get over its bad self. Still another inspired cover, a pew-rattlin', gospel strut through Joe South's "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," spouts earthy, righteous resolve, and LaFave's "That's the Way It Goes" takes a wry look at lost innocence and time's inevitable toll to a gritty, Faces-by-way-of-Chuck-Berry thump.
It all adds up to show that a simple, direct statement artfully rendered can speak volumes. • Mike Thomas
[designer note: All the pictures on this page were taken by Dallas-based photographer Pete Lacker. The pairing of Jimmy and Pete appears to be the lucky kind always hoped for by musicians and photographers. I first became aware of it when I saw the CD package for Jimmy's 2005 release Blue Nightfall and thought, "Whoever shot these really has it." Those photos seemed to identify Jimmy as the legendary Jimmy LaFave, a man who'd somehow always be in an interesting light. To check out more of Pete's work, visit petelacker.com.]