Roots performer Pokey LaFarge calls St. Louis his home, and the racial tension that boiled over after Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by police in neighboring Ferguson informs his new song “Riot in the Streets.” It will appear on LaFarge’s new album Manic Revelations, out May 19th.
To date, LaFarge’s records have borne a distinctly vintage touch, heavily mining traditional jazz, Western swing and jump blues for songs about modern Midwestern problems. “Riot in the Streets” follows this trend, though its sound places LaFarge a lot closer to the soul music being made by black performers at the height of the Sixties civil rights battle. Unfaltering rhythm, optimistic gospel-pop melody and bright pops of brass contrast with his pointed observations about race relations and police violence in America. “A lot of people have had enough, just waitin’ for the time to come,” he sings, crooning the title line with glee. But he wisely realizes it’s not his place to condemn – rather, he can open his ears and do a better job of understanding. “There’s so much left to learn, as the bullets fly and the buildings burn,” he concludes.
“When I travel around and talk to people, they are scared of America,” LaFarge, who currently stars as classic-country singer Hank Snow on CMT’s new Sun Records series, told Rolling Stone in 2015 around the release of his album Something in the Water. “They think we are all fat and ignorant. It’s unbelievable to realize I have this platform. I want to change attitudes and nowhere is that [more important] than in my own backyard.”