Music Review: Jimmy LaFave’s ‘The Night Tribe’

The Night Tribe - Jimmy LaFave

Jimmy LaFave’s rich, effusive vocals command attention and when the Austin, Texas-based singer pairs them with the right material, wonderful music results. That’s what happens on nearly every track on his self-produced latest album.

LaFave—whose voice reminds me at times of the great Michael Fracasso’s—brings out every bit of melancholy in Neil Young’s “Journey through the Past” and serves up a soulful, anthemic reading of Bob Dylan’s classic “Queen Jane Approximately.” (LaFave is no stranger to Dylan covers: a 1999 retrospective includes a dozen of Bob’s songs and 2007’s Cimarron Manifesto features a reading of “Not Dark Yet” that nearly equals the spellbinding original.)

LaFave’s own compositions, which dominate the program here, are terrific as well and in line with the album’s moniker. As the singer writes in the liner notes, his tunes concern the “after-hours people . . . the Kerouac people: the all-night waitress, the 24-hour truck stop attendant, the after-midnight radio host . . . restless insomniacs up all hours of the night searching for truth.” Highlights include “Maybe,” an exuberant mid-tempo number; the gorgeous ballads “Not On Me,” “The Beauty of You” and “Talk to an Angel”; and “Never Came Back to Memphis,” a sultry, seductive folk/rocker.

LaFave’s band, which includes a six-piece string section, is first-rate but I have to single out pianist Radoslav Lorkovic, whose majestic work reminds me at times of the feeling I get from Bruce Hornsby’s piano riffs on “The Way It Is.” Throughout, LaFave sings with conviction about the things that matter in life, and the results are profound. This moody, heartfelt album makes a perfect accompaniment to that last late-night glass of wine but sounds magnificent by daylight as well.

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