Pokey LaFarge Credit: Nate Burrell

With his recent Manic Revelations (Rounder), Saint Louis roots maven Pokey LaFarge hasn’t surrendered his love of a simpler musical era, but he seems to have decided that polishing up his sound might net him a broader listenership. I enjoyed his 2015 album Something in the Water, which was made by a crew of skilled Chicago time travelers including members of the Fat Babies and Flat Five—artists who routinely balance their romance for American’s roots music past with a sly postmodern sensibility. The new album, however, was cut with a band that plays well yet adds little personality. LaFarge’s music has regularly juggled bits of rockabilly, ragtime, trad jazz, early R&B, and honky-tonk balladry, but the songs on the new record are glossed over with a generic horn section and an overlay toothless 60s soul that tends to push them all into a single corner. While the album’s opening tracks express empathy for flashpoints of racial unrest in his home region— “Riot in the Streets” references Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue, which was the scene of much of the clashes between protesters and police officers following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014—his song “Silent Movie” delivers a depressingly apathetic statement. Reacting to the world’s hostility and insensitivity, he sings, “Cover your ears and watch the world go by / That’s how you survive.” The music complements that sort of disengagement; it’s pleasant, catchy, and well made, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much.   v