After releasing 2 albums in 2014, one might think singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave would still be touring in support of "Trail 2" and "Trail 3." But he's off on another trail this year with his latest effort "The Night Tribe." And like a great deal of his prior work, LaFave balances that combination of polished prose and delivery while still being a little rough around the edges. Such a duality makes for a very endearing album.
While the record contains covers by Bob Dylan and Neil Young (more on those later), LaFave kicks off the 13-track album with "The Beauty Of You," a song evoking old-school soul while mixed with a gentler John Mayer-leaning approach. Thankfully it works, and works well. The same can be said for the slow-building "Maybe," which LaFave takes his good old time wading into. The Roy Bittan-esque piano work is solid and recalls Bob Seger circa "Roll Me Away." The only time he seems to be playing it a bit too safe is during "It's Not On Me," which is fine but a tad too formulaic. Meanwhile, the Dylan cover of "Queen Jane Approximately" takes a while to gel as LaFave tries to insert some of the icon's singing nuances for better or worse.
LaFave then dusts off Young's "Journey Through The Past" for a moving, memorable cover mainly for its sparseness and alt.-country touches. Yet, it's the beautiful "Talk To An Angel" that is head and shoulders above the other 12 songs. LaFave shines on the string-tinged, dreamy performance that treads down similar lyrical paths as Ron Sexsmith's "Speaking With The Angel" off his self-titled debut. Unfortunately, LaFave goes down the same path one too many times with the reflective "Island," a song dwarfed by a great number of songs off this record. This is particularly true of the bluesy, barroom "Dust Bowl Okies," which has a nifty little toe-tapping change of pace in the heart of the ditty.
The closing quartet of songs gets off on the right foot with the roots-pop oozing out of the infectious "Never Came Back To Memphis" that grabs the listener from the opening notes. Just as appealing is the heartfelt "Smile" that could easily become a wedding song for the couple lucky enough to find the tune. And as he did to begin, LaFave wraps up this little hour of joy with the slow, doo-wop flavored "The Roads Of The Earth." "Life is a passion play," LaFave sings in the finale, and it's that passionate playing and style that makes this album a keeper.