Album Review

Jimmy LaFave's Trail Two & Trail Three

Jimmy LaFave - Trail Two and Trail Three

My recent review of Jimmy LaFave’s reissued Trail One and new Trail Four made no mention of the volumes in between because I hadn’t heard them. I have now, and can attest that they are every bit as memorable as the collections that preceded and followed them.

Like the other records in the Trail series, these albums contain an assortment of previously unreleased live and studio performances. The programs feature folk ballads, blues classics and roadhouse rockers, and include a generous sampling of material from the man who appears to be LaFave’s favorite writer, Bob Dylan. Trail Two incorporates a gripping version of “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan’s meditation on melancholia and (I think) death, along with a wonderful reading of Blood on the Tracks’ plaintive “Buckets of Rain.” Trail Three also taps Blood on the Tracks, for a fine “Meet Me in the Morning,” and features “Sweetheart Like You,” from Infidels. Reaching further back into the Dylan songbook, LaFave squeezes every bit of nuance from the early classics “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and offers a rollicking 11-minute live medley that unites “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” with Robbie Robertson’s Band classic “The Weight.” As I said in my earlier review, if there’s a better Dylan interpreter out there, I don’t know who it is.

There are other noteworthy covers here, too, including a pensive concert reading of Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills” on Trail Two and an intimate acoustic treatment of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” on Trail Three. The latter arrangement, while so different from the original that I at first didn’t recognize the number, is just as emotional as the Boss’s version. After hearing it, I started thinking about a list of other Springsteen songs I’d like to hear LaFave cover.

The man’s voice is a remarkable instrument, but he is as much of a songwriter as he is a singer and these packages reaffirm that he can pen material worthy of sharing a program with that of the masters he covers. Effusive originals like Trail Two’s “River Road” and “Never Be Mine” and Trail Three’s “Rain Falling Down” create intimate moods with strong melodies and sparing, masterful use of metaphor.

In my head is a short list of relatively unknown artists who would have been famous decades ago if there were any justice in the world. The list includes names like Greg Brown, Tom Russell, Elliott Murphy, Michael Fracasso and the rock group Shack. And it absolutely includes Jimmy LaFave.

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 Jeff. Jimmy LaFave is one of our great artists and another national treasure too few people have ever hreard of. Another  wonderful, and surprising, cover he does is the song by that 1960s one hit (as far as I know) wonder band the Left Bank's "Walk Away Renee." (I don't recall though if it's on one of the two "Trail" releases you're talking about here.)

My only complaint about all these "Trail" releases is the lack of information. It seems they could of at least included the songwriter credits since I have no idea if  the ones I'm unfamiliar with are his originals or covers. Thanks for mentioning some of those like the Springsteen cover. The CDs say to visit his website for details but when I did I couldn't find any. It's been awhile since I tried so maybe that's changed.

I agree with your one complaint (and I mentioned it in my review of Trail One and Four). They really should have listed credits, etc. I think they're treating these as quick "official bootleg" releases, which is why they didn't include details. But they should have. Still, what counts most is the music, and it's terrific.

I believe the Left Banke did have another "hit", though it wasn't as big as "Walk Away Renee"...a song called "Pretty Ballerina" got a lot of airplay here in the Midwest, and got into the teens on the Billboard Hot 100...John Mellencamp has done the song live before, and has mentioned it as an influential song for him...

As for the Trail releases, they are all wonderful...Jimmy has another live record from 1992 that is still available (though maybe at a premium) called "Austin Skyline"...that has an amazing version of "Walk Away Renee"...I believe the song shows up on one of these Trail releases also, but I don't remember which one of the top of my head ...Skyline has some great La Fave originals like "When It Starts To Rain", "Desperate Men Do Desperate Things" and "Everytime" alongside the Left Banke tune...no shortage of Dylan on this one either..."Girl From the North Country", "You're a Big Girl Now", "Shelter From the Storm, and "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat"...

I have a couple of copies of the original "Trail" (now referred to as "Trail One"), and the liner notes are great...the well known critic Dave Marsh wrote them, and he clearly loved Jimmy (and dubs him the best of all Dylan's interpreters)...there is also some information on where the songs were recorded, some pics...well worth having...I will see if I can distill/convert all of that into something I can pass along to you and Jeff...I have to find them first...I probably bought 10 copies of Trail to give to music loving friends back when I discovered it...just felt like they had to have it...it was too good for people not to know about it...so I'm really glad they are re-releasing it, but sans the liner notes, it does lose a bit...

 

"Pretty Ballerina" was a baroque-rock classic and was indeed another Left Banke hit, though not as big as "Walk Away Renee." I've heard Jimmy LaFave's "Walk Away Renne," which is terrific, but it's not on any of the Trail releases. If you're a fan of the song, by the way, note that Southside Johnny has also done an excellent cover. There's also a version by the Four Tops.

You are correct..."Walk Away Renee" is indeed just on "Austin Skyline"...there is an original song at the end of Trail 4 called "Worn Out American Dream" that is the first song I ever heard by Jimmy, and it remains one of my favorites to this day...the version on Trail 4 is not the same one as the other live version I heard, which was on a Rounder sampler I bought many years ago...the song was an outtake that never made it on Trail for some reason...incredible vocal on a song as powerful now as when he wrote it...the recorded version is on the studio record "Buffalo Return to the Plains".  I've heard the Southside Johnny version or "Renee", and it is very good...the Four Tops I've not heard...but I will...thanks for the writing Jeff...Jimmy is the real deal!  Can't imagine anyone who is on this site not appreciating what he does...