CD Review: Jimmy LaFave – Depending on the Distance (Music Road, 2012)
“Singer-songwriter” usually labels someone who sings their own songs, but in Jimmy LaFave’s case, it describes someone who’s as talented at originating material as he is in lending his voice to others’ songs. His first studio album in five years balances eight new songs with five covers, three of the latter selected from the catalog of Bob Dylan. Perhaps the most surprising reinterpretation is his resurrection of John Waite’s “Missing You” from its 1980s chart-topping power-ballad origin. As a writer of emotionally-laden songs, LaFave could hear the finely-tuned angst of Waite’s lyric, and reconstruct it into rootsy rock ‘n’ roll. The production’s guitar adds a touch of Southern soul, and the emotional choke in LaFave’s voice mates perfectly with the song’s mood.
The Dylan covers “Red River Shore,” the oft-covered “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” and Empire Burlesque’s “I’ll Remember You.” LaFave adds something special to each, reading the first in slow reflection, and warming the latter from the chilly production of its original version. The album’s fifth cover is Bruce Springsteen’s recently released (though earlier written) “Land of Hopes and Dreams.” LaFave strips the song of its E Street bombast to better reveal the tender heart of its inverted allusions to the gospel-folk classic “This Train.” LaFave uses the covers as a launching point for his original songs, weaving a continuous thread through expectation, melancholy, sadness and second chances.
There’s a New Orleans groove to “Red Dirt Night,” gospel devotion in “Bring Back the Trains” and righteous grief in “It Just is Not Right.” The latter ruminates on the numbness society often displays towards its most helpless members, and the album closes with a farewell whose metaphor neatly twines people and places. Throughout the album, LaFave sings with deep soul, harboring a waver in his notes that may remind you of Steve Forbert. He takes his songs at tempos that provide room for thought and expression, as befits the songs he writes and covers. This album will appeal to your ears on first spin, and grow in your thoughts over time.