Jimmy Lafave – Buffalo Return to the Plains
Jimmy LaFave’s success as an artist clearly rises and falls on the strength of his voice. A powerful, slightly grainy instrument, it’s capable of driving home heartfelt emotions forcefully but also can overflow into histrionic melodrama when LaFave fails to put on the brakes. Fortunately, he’s learned better and better over the years to rein it in when necessary, and as a result, each of his three CDs has been an improvement over the last.
Buffalo Return to the Plains, his second for the exemplary Colorado indie Bohemia Beat, is the latest and foremost in that string. At his best, LaFave delivers anthemic roots-rock at a fever pitch, as on “Sweetheart Like You” and “Worn Out American Dream”. He’s no master lyricist, as the former of those two songs indicates, with its chorus of “What’s a sweetheart like you / Doing in a place like this?” In the hands of a lesser vocalist, the song would surely collapse on that cliche, but somehow LaFave lends it an urgency that makes it come across as passionate and genuine.
At his worst, LaFave has a tendency to reel off blues-rock throwaways such as “Amsterdam”, “That I Can’t Control” and “Rock & Roll Land”. He fares better with gentle pop ballads such as “Never Be Mine”, “Going Home” and “I Walk Along With You”. Sequencing is also a problem: “Last Train” is a slow-burning churner that would serve as a nice gradual fade at the end of the album, but it’s placed second on the disc and summarily kills the momentum established by the strong first track “Burden to Bear”. Still, the high points outweigh the lows, with LaFave’s voice leading the way.