Album Review

Jimmy LaFave's Trail One and Trail Four

Jimmy LaFave - Trail One and Trail Four

The more I listen to Jimmy LaFave’s music, the more I think the recognition he has received doesn’t come close to being commensurate with his talent. Two releases of vintage material—both arriving shortly after the terrific new The Night Tribe—provide the latest evidence that he is one of the best folk/rock singer/songwriters this side of the Andromeda Galaxy.

One of these albums is a reissue of 1999’s two-CD Trail One, the first in the artist’s series of collections of covers-dominated concert and radio performances and studio obscurities. The other is Trail Four, the latest in that series.

Curiously absent from both of these packages are any details about the music. You’ll find no musician or songwriter credits, no information about where LaFave recorded the tracks. Also missing are the Dave Marsh liner notes from the original version of Trail One. But you don’t need liner notes to tell you this music is great.

LaFave’s favorite writer to cover is Dylan, and if there’s a better Dylan interpreter out there, I don’t know who it is. LaFave offers a dozen of Bob’s songs on Trail One and several more on Trail Four, and in nearly every case, his bluesy, emotion-drenched vocals capture the spirit of the original while adding something fresh.

On Trail One, he conveys the venom in the lyrics of “Positively 4th Street” and also the jingle-jangle joy in its music. A captivating “I Threw It All Away” is arguably more mournful than the writer’s original. On Trail One, LaFave also masterfully reimagines such Dylan classics as “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “ “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “Oh, Sister,” “Simple Twist of Fate” and “If Not for You.” Trail Four, meanwhile, includes “She Belongs to Me,” “Chimes of Freedom,” “I’ll Remember You” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” “Chimes” is the one misstep, with LaFave’s vocal buried too deeply in the mix.

Dylan isn’t the only writer LaFave taps on these collections. There are also covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen (“Valentine’s Day”), Woody Guthrie (“Oklahoma Hills”} and others, and they are almost uniformly excellent. Particularly revelatory is the reading of Bobby Charles’s “Walking to New Orleans,” which turns Fats Domino’s sweet, woeful pop ballad into a haunting, even sadder tale.

There are originals here, too, and they hold up just fine alongside the classics LaFave interprets. “When It Starts to Rain,” one standout, is a touching ode to a lover that seems to come from the same emotional place as Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You.” Another gem is “Loved You Like Rainbows,” a heartache set to music.

The albums in the Trail series are reportedly being treated as so-called “legal bootlegs” and are being released with virtually no publicity. Go figure. If I were LaFave’s record label, I’d be shouting from the rooftops about these CDs.

Jeff Burger edited Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, both published by Chicago Review Press. He is working on a third book for the same publisher. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary.

I couldn't agree with you more Mr. Burger. Of all the artists I've been introduced to on this site Jimmy LaFave has to be my favorite and his Dylan covers are what I like best although he's a terrific songwriter in his own right. But I think it is interesting that I was turned-on to this artist by a fellow music-loving reader  and frequent commentator Jim Hunter and not one of the professional cotributors. 

This reminds me that probably my favorite posting on this site was the interview with Tonio K. by Hal Bogard--another knowledgable reader who makes freqent comments and not a professional. This is why I decided not to fork over for a printed copy of ND. To begin with $20 seemd rather expensive for a copy of one magazine when you can get a yearly subscription for that price but also becuase the professional contributions are, to me, the least intersting aspect of this site. It is the conversations I really enjoy and lament how little of that now occurs compared to this site before it got sold. I still lament that so many of those readers became disgusted with the changes and never came back.

But to return to your posting Jeff, thanks a lot for the heads-up about these two releases. When I started buying everything I could by this artist "Trail One" was out of print and "Trail Four" hadn't yet been released so I'm delighted to learn I may be able to get them now.  I have no idea if you are one of ND's paid contirubtors but if so it does show that I do get some great information from them too and am glad they contribute. But it is still the conversations and debates between music-loving readers that I like the most about this site and what is still missing to a large degree.

Jimmy's shows are a real treat. He inhabits This Land Is Your Land, if you didn't know better you'd swear he wrote it. Lots of other such examples to be sure.

Amen, Dennis, on the lack of discussion, though there's seems to be a minor surge here and there lately. 

Great article Jeff...I stumbled onto Jimmy's "Trail One" sort of by accident...I bought a couple of samplers from Rounder many years ago for 5 bucks each, Jimmy's label, Bohemia Beat apparently had a distribution deal with Rounder, but a guy named Mark Shumate was the owner/face of the label, and Jimmy was pretty much the only artist on it...all the artists on the samplers were good, and a  lot of the material was live stuff, but LaFave stood out well above everyone else (except maybe Ellis Paul)...the two songs he contributed were "Ellie's Song", which is on Trail (one), and an incredible live reading of one of his originals, "Worn Out American Dream" (that can be found on a record called "Buffalo Return to The Plains", but the live version, which isn't on Trail, is a better version...good luck finding it).  Anyway, I bought "Trail" (now dubbed Trail One) and I was just blown away...couldn't believe how good it was, and as you noted, the Dylan covers are crazy good...there is a hidden track on the second disc, Jackson Browne's "Rosie"...the liner notes by Dave Marsh, who was qutie a notable critic at the time, were very insightful and it is a shame they aren't included in the re-release, but the music says volumes.. I did find this item from Marsh' liner notes “Jimmy LaFave has one of America’s greatest voices, and this album is the story of what he has learned to do with it. It’s a unique instrument, with startling range and its own peculiar sense of gravity, liable to swoop in and wreck your expectations at any instant.”  

At any rate, so glad to hear Trail one is available again other than Mp3, and can't wait to hear Trail 4...to those who love what you hear, Jimmy's first record, "Austin Skyline", circa 1991-1992 is also recorded live, and it is great...

Thanks Jeff...and although Dennis gives me credit for putting him on to LaFave, he would likely have found him sooner or later...Dennis is right...the ND community and the dialogue is what has made the site in the years it has not been in print, and a little more of that would be a good thing...I am looking forward to the print mag also, but I return to the site for the conversation and debate...

In case you guys missed it, Hal Bogerd, referenced here by Dennis, started quite a little debate in a Wilco post earlier this week...if you missed that, you should look it up...makes no difference if you love or hate Wilco by the way...

 

what i have always liked about mr. la fave is that the covers fit seamlessly in with his originals - he puts the same heart into all the songs he has done - he is someone i would love to see sometime but he doesn't seem to tour much down in this neck of the desert - great voice and always backed by good musicians - someone who is worthy of far greater recognition - 

 

 

Notice to all...there were 8 copies of the Trail (one) CD on Amazon this morning...now there are 5...Music Road Records also has the CD and Mp3...I would encourage anyone who loves Jimmy to get that record...as a matter of fact, I'd encourage anyone who likes a good percentage of the music discussed on this website to pick up the original Trail now that it is available...it is just great music...

agree with jim hunter - i have the original and glad i do 

bob

I bought several over the years and gave them to friends who I knew would appreciate the music...the liner notes and other information contained in the booklet is informative as well, so like you, I'm glad I have the original...