From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. Look for my interview with Jimmy LaFave next week.
Jimmy LaFave “Depending on the Distance” (Music Road Records)
“Depending on the Distance,” Jimmy LaFave’s first studio album in five years, lives up to the intriguing promise of its title, finding the Oklahoma-Texas troubadour in a contemplative mood whether he is crooning his new original songs, covering an ’80s pop smash or reinterpreting anthems penned by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
Much like his mentors Bob the Bard and Oklahoma songwriting icon Woody Guthrie, what the red dirt pioneer’s voice lacks in technical prowess it more than makes up for rootsy, relatable authenticity. The Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter, who spent his teen years in Stillwater and dug his musical roots in the red dirt hotbed, is in such a mellow mood on the follow-up to his 2007 “Cimarron Manifesto” that the passion of the achingly lovely opener indeed seems to come out of the “Clear Blue Sky” and the sharply written socially commentary of “It Just Is Not Right” sneaks up to prick you in the conscience despite the tip-off of the title.
There’s even an understated elegance to his rendition of John Waite’s often-covered 1984 chart-topper “Missing You,” which LaFave strips of the cheesy, dated production and transforms into an emotionally layered guitar-and-piano ballad with the help of Oklahoma guitarist Travis Linville.
LaFave’s first album of new material on Music Road Records, the label he co-founded in 2008 with Dallas businessman Kelcy Warren, features three Dylan covers, including a hauntingly beautiful version of “Red River Shore” that captivates even as it flows past the 9 ½-minute mark.
Golden-throated folk songstress Eliza Gilkyson prettily backs the fellow Austinite on his take on The Boss’ “Land of Hope and Dreams,” while big-voiced Texas jazz/soul songbird Tameca Jones amps up the gospel groove of LaFave’s uplifting original anthem “Bring Back the Trains.”
LaFave also boosts the volume and energy on “Red Dirt Night,” his boogie-woogie tribute to his Oklahoma upbringing and the small towns that dot the Sooner State.
But the moments of introspection dominate “Depending on the Distance,” with the wistful ode “A Place I Have Left Behind” lingering in the heart and mind long after the final notes have faded as surely as the lost love affair the song memorializes.