Pokey LaFarge won’t dwell on specifics, but apparently things were bad. “I was definitely coming out of the darkness that I’d been living in most of my life—especially in what was the darkest year of my life, 2019,” says the itinerant singer/songwriter, who was born Andrew Heissler. “I was in withdrawl from a lot of things that were killing me.”
Fueled by his new-found Christian faith and the pandemic protocols keeping him and every other working musician off the road, LaFarge crafted the cinematic and summery In The Blossom Of Their Shade (New West) with coproducer Chris Seefried (Fitz And The Tantrums) in Chicago. “It’s the third album in a row I’ve made in Chicago with the same band, so we have a pretty dang good rapport,” says LaFarge.
And it’s not too far from his hometown of Bloomington-Normal, Ill., where his mom used to call him “Pokey” as a kid to get him moving. Since then, moving has been a way of life for LaFarge, who estimates he lived in 10 different homes following his parents’ divorce. After high school, he hit the road, residing in Oregon, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, North Carolina and Missouri, and busking in cities like Louisville, Madison, St. Louis and Asheville. These days, LaFarge maintains a residence in Los Angeles while bouncing back and forth between Bloomington-Normal and his girlfriend’s home in Maine.
“It seems like change is always happening, whether it’s moving somewhere else, someone suddenly disappearing from my life or someone suddenly coming into my life,” says LaFarge. “I just try to embrace the fact that I’m not supposed to live a small story. My life is meant to be big.”
In The Blossom’s moodier predecessor, Rock Bottom Rhapsody, was released in April 2020 just as the COVID crisis was ramping up and the world was locking down. LaFarge took full advantage of the uncertainty. “I had the space to process and create,” he says. “With the last record, it was a lot more rock and soul influences. For this one, you get into the Caribbean influences—and even some hidden J.J. Cale and Bo Diddley.”
LaFarge was collaborating with Seefried when they hit on the idea for “Killing Time,” which debuts here. “We were writing for Trombone Shorty at the time,” says LaFarge. “Our idea for the song was a Lee Dorsey meets Dr. John kind of thing. We got off to a great start but didn’t complete it.”
The tune finally came together during a stay in Austin. “I recorded it on my 1946 Epiphone Spartan tuned down a whole step on a ’50s Epiphone tube amp,” says LaFarge. “With just me, upright bass, drums and piano, it sounded more like Hank Williams than I wanted it to, so I had the Chicago boys add their usual Jordanaires-style backing vocals to juxtapose a more doo-wop sound with a hillbilly sound.”
In The Blossom’s colorized Vaudeville-inspired cover image is an apt representation of its contents. “I’d say Rock Bottom Rhapsody was painted in two or three different colors … a lot of blues, grays and maybe a dash of red. In The Blossom is like 15 colors—more like a rain forest,” says LaFarge, noting that the entertainer’s life he’s chosen doesn’t have to be one-dimensional. “I’ve realized that I don’t have to be a musician to fulfill my purpose on the earth, which is spreading joy. There’s a lot of ways for me to do that. I’ve got a big mouth, and I like to talk.”