His guitar sounds like a ukulele, his voice like a transgendered punk Bessie Smith, and his style suggests a hobo Pee-wee Herman. But Pokey LaFarge isn't just messing with the old-time jug-band blues. On this year's Marmalade, the Louisville, Kentucky, songwriter mixes up 78-rpm novelties with some vaudevillian wordplay, bittersweet country melodies and a few licks that are hotter and harder than they first appear. Rather than straining his down-home spirit, he lets his songs breathe through spaces as personal as they are Southern and archetypal. He can fake a trumpet toot with the best of the buskers on Beale Street, but he knows there's no faking the blues — you either feel them or you don't.
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