At his best, Jimmy LaFave sounds like the heart of a Saturday night.
One imagines him performing in a Midwestern bar, using that ruggedly windswept, burnished voice to hush the din with surprisingly revelatory versions of ballads such as “Walk Away Renee” and Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You”.
Through his five previous albums, LaFave has had the knack, like a roots-rock/alt-country Rod Stewart, of sounding wonderfully plaintive with the right kind of balladeer material. On the new Texoma, he does it again with a surprise choice: Jimmy Webb’s beautifully intricate “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”. Webb’s genteel, sophisticated pop might seem an unlikely fit for LaFave’s bluesy approach, but the singer brings out the material’s soulfulness. And both men have Oklahoma roots; LaFave was born in Texas but moved to Oklahoma as a teen (thus his album’s title).
Texoma has several other nice covers, including Gretchen Peters’ literate, folk-oriented “On A Bus To St. Cloud” and an upbeat, churning arrangement of John Phillips’ “San Francisco”. With his band, including Larry Williams on guitars and David Webb on keyboards, LaFave has infectious fun with raucous barnstormers such as Alvin Lee’s “Rock And Roll Music To The World”.
But this album’s Dylan cover — a LaFave tradition — is the icky “Emotionally Yours”. And as a songwriter, LaFave too often uses mundane language and humdrum melodies to express obvious sentiments. His strength is in his interpretive powers, not his writing.