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Jimmy LaFave Cimarron Manifesto & Larry Joe Taylor Times

by Steve Circeo

I usually review albums by up-and-coming artists. That’s a blast, because being one of the first people to hear a great record by an unknown band, and then to play a part in helping others discover the music of artists like Rich O’Toole and Stephanie Briggs is a really cool thing. In fact, that’s a big part of why I do what I do.

But this month when I checked the ol’ P.O. box, I had CDs with review requests from a couple of well-established, highly respected artists: Jimmy LaFave and Larry Joe Taylor.

Let me preface any further comments by saying that I had never heard a full album by either of these guys before. I know who they are, of course, and have heard individual songs on the radio, even seen them both live, but I had never sat down and listened to a CD all the way through.

So it was with great anticipation that I loaded these new releases into my CD player.

LaFave’s Cimarron Manifesto is simply stunning, with a full but laid back sound. Starting with one of the best Jimmy LaFave - Cimarron Manifestoroad songs I’ve ever heard, “Car Outside,” with Kacy Crowley on harmonies, and finishing with the redemptive “These Blues,” Cimarron Manifesto feels like a journey through America’s heartland.

The most powerful song on the record is the haunting “This Land,” a cry for sanity in these uncertain, war-torn times. The song is not a political manifesto a la McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here,” but is more of a distressed observation of life in these United States:

Children dying on some foreign soil.
For god’s sake won’t you tell me what is all this fighting for?...
It’s the only thing I know to say, “My friend,
I simply want my country back again.”
Cuz I see people just stranded by the road.
They’re hopeless and forgotten while the milk and honey flow.

“This Land” is a beautiful song that puts Jimmy’s passion for America on full display. It also features Carrie Rodriguez on harmony vocals, which is always a pleasure.

The other LaFave originals are well-crafted and elegant, carried by Jimmy’s distinctive voice and Jimmy-as-producer’s careful attention to the backing instrumentation. But the covers he chose for this record are particularly noteworthy. Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” has never sounded so real and Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” is good enough to make you forget the original. But the standout is LaFave’s cover of Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” with the phenomenal Ruthie Foster on harmony. That’s the one that blew me away. Jimmy’s and Ruthie’s voices seem to have been created to sing together.

After Cimarron Manifesto had ended, I slid Larry Joe Taylor’s Times into the CD player.

Many have called Larry Joe Taylor the “Texas Jimmy Larry Joe Taylor - TimesBuffett.” I’m sure Larry Joe takes this as a compliment, and I understand the comparison, but it’s not really a fair one, because Taylor is definitely an accomplished artist in his own right. This album proves that.

Times comprises ten songs. Seven are originals, including one written with Red Dirt rocker Mike McClure (who also provides a guest vocal), and two written with the legendary Keith Sykes.
Taylor has a lot of fun with tunes like the Taylor-Sykes collaboration “Monkey River Town Girl,” which features Jerry Jeff Walker helping out on vocals and a cool clarinet backtrack by Stan Smith, and “Lazy Days,” with its fast tempo and piano and organ accompaniments.

It’s not all fun and games, though, because Taylor keeps it real by adding just a touch of melancholy in songs like the Allen Shamblin-penned “The Older I Get” and Larry Joe’s own “Times Square,” about a guy who has just lost the love of his life.

If spoken words go unheard do they really make a sound?
Things you love and lose don’t turn up in lost and found.
I never heard the whistle ‘til the train pulled away.
It’s like I’m always in Times Square just in time for New Year’s Day.

Larry Joe’s voice is perfect for “Times Square,” and I really felt his sense of loss. It’s a beautifully poignant song, and Taylor’s vocals, along with Richard Bowden’s fiddle, combine to bring it home.

Lloyd Maines shows once again why he deserves the title “super-producer.” The instrumentation and arrangements are spot on. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but, after all, Larry Joe’s not trying to re-invent the wheel. He’s just out to create an album full of good, solid music.

It’s nice, every so often, to settle back and listen to music by artists with established bodies of work who know what they want to do and then do it with expertise and finesse. Larry Joe Taylor and Jimmy LaFave are two such artists; Times and Cimarron Manifesto are more evidence of that.

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