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March 11, 2015


Americana singer-songwriter’s May 12 release
includes rare covers of Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately”
and Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past”

AUSTIN, Texas — Even before he named his first band back in Oklahoma, Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave knew he belonged to that special fraternity of shadowy creatures who move to rhythms dictated by darkness: the 24-hour diner waitress, the graveyard-shift radio DJs, the cops, the taxi drivers … the musicians. His night tribe. A few versions of Jimmy LaFave & the Night Tribe have existed over the years, but he’d never reflected life “in the neon glow of perpetual sin” via song — until now, with The Night Tribe, his new album, releasing May 12, 2015 on Music Road Records.

Explaining the term’s origin, LaFave says, “In Oklahoma, you hear the word tribe a lot because of all the different Indian tribes, and I thought, ‘What tribe of people am I part of?’ It was always the night people.” After reactivating the Night Tribe name for a recent European tour, he decided he wanted to do something thematic with it. “And that is when I write most of my songs,” he adds. “Almost all the songs on the record were written at nighttime, driving.”

While hardly dark in texture, LaFave’s self-produced album captures the varied moods and musings of an accomplished folk/Americana artist known for possessing what critic Dave Marsh has called “one of America’s greatest voices.” LaFave is also known for his ability to draw musical lines from Oklahoma native son Woody Guthrie to Dylan, Neil Young and other influences in ways that feel completely organic. As most of LaFave’s albums do, The Night Tribe contains a Dylan cover: his elegantly rendered “Queen Jane Approximately”; it also contains his gorgeously spare, yet majestic version of Young’s “Journey Through the Past.”
As for Guthrie, the folk icon’s spirit directly inhabits the rockabilly-tinged “Dust Bowl Okies,” and it certainly imbues the title tune, a bluesy noir that paints every shade of the “shadow world” where passion, promise, danger and loneliness all lurk. But it’s safe to say it hovers throughout The Night Tribe, from the mid-tempo opener “The Beauty of You” to the closing benediction, a prayer of sorts for fellow travelers, “The Roads of the Earth.” (LaFave, who serves on the advisory board of the annual Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, is set to perform May 2 for the second-anniversary celebration of Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center.)

LaFave’s attraction to American roots music manifested itself as he learned to bang drums, then strum guitar, during an adolescence spent in the suburbs of Dallas. A move to Stillwater, Okla., as a high-school senior planted red dirt under his toes and the notion of a musical career in his brain. In 1986, after a few years spent touring the Southwest, he did what so many singer-songwriters do: he moved to Austin.

Recognition came quickly. He helped establish a popular songwriters night at the renowned Chicago House and won his first of many Austin Chronicle awards for his debut recording, Highway Angels ... Full Moon Rain. He also recorded with Texas-born producer Bob Johnston, who’d done several of Dylan’s touchstone albums, along with classics by Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. That work was never released, but LaFave says the experience was invaluable. He put it to good use on his self-produced 1992 album, Austin Skyline, which earned him a publishing deal with Polygram and distribution via Rounder Records. Highway Trance and Buffalo Return to the Plains followed in 1994 and ’95, and Road Novel in ’97. A two-album retrospective, 1999’s Trail, featured a full dozen Dylan songs.

In 1996, LaFave marked two career milestones: taping an episode of the iconic Austin City Limits PBSseries and performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum’s inaugural American Music Mastersseries (now Music Masters) event, a tribute to Guthrie. The weeklong celebration also featured Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Pete Seeger and other disciples. In 2001, the same year he released Texoma, LaFave launched “Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway,” a touring tribute to Guthrie featuring a rotating cast including Eliza Gilkyson, Slaid Cleaves, Ellis Paul, Kevin Welch, Bob Childers, Woody’s granddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie, her husband, Johnny Irion, Michael Fracasso and others. The same-titled double album became the first release on Music Road Records, which LaFave formed in 2007 with Dallas businessman Kelcy Warren.

But before that, he released two acclaimed Red House Records albums: 2005’s Blue Nightfall and 2007’s Cimarron Manifesto, which spent several weeks atop the Americana Music Association’s airplay chart. In 2005, he also duetted with Springsteen, another hero, at Dallas’ Nokia Theatre (now Verizon Theatre) and was given 19 sets of Guthrie lyrics by Woody’s daughter Nora to work into songs — a project still in progress. (He confesses he’s a bit intimidated because to him, the material is almost sacred.)

It’s not as if he hasn’t been busy. In 2011, he and Gilkyson were tapped to perform with Mexican superstarJuanes before Springsteen’s one-for-the-ages South By Southwest keynote speech, seen around the world via webcast. In addition to LaFave’s 2012 Music Road release, Depending on the Distance, he co-produced the label’s acclaimed 2014 double-album compilation Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne, which featured Don Henley, Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, Ben Harper, Bruce Hornsby, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and many other A-list contributors. (His own rendition of “For Everyman” was among its highlights.) Last year also brought unexpected recognition — and royalties — when another superstar, Italian singer Zucchero (whom LaFave describes as “Europe’s version of Springsteen”) recorded his song, “Never is a Moment.”

“I’ve been very lucky,” LaFave says. “I’ve had a lot of fun with music, and the older I get, the more I try to be more lighthearted about it. It’s not a competition. As long as I’m making music for people who enjoy it, I’m happy.”

For The Night Tribe, LaFave did decide to take on some unfinished work of Warren’s. During an earlier foray into the music business, Warren had operated a label in Memphis and had done some songwriting. LaFave asked if he could hear some of those tunes. Warren demurred, but one day when LaFave was at Warren’s Cherokee, Texas, ranch — site of the annual Cherokee Creek Music Festival and one of the label’s two recording studios (the other is Cedar Creek Recording, in Austin) — Warren relented. LaFave took “Talk To an Angel,” gave it a few tweaks and recorded it.
Its simple eloquence is enhanced, as so many of the album’s tracks are, by Radoslav Lorkovic’s piano (and organ) playing. Core players also include Anthony da Costa on electric guitar (LaFave plays acoustic);Andrew Pressman on bass; and Bobby Kallus on drums. Larry Wilson and Garrett Lebeau also contribute electric guitar; Noelle Hampton, Jaimee Harris and Emily Shirley sing background vocals; and Will Taylor,Javier Chaparro, James Anderson, Tony Rogers, Brian Standefer and Delaine Leonard provide string accompaniment.

The result is a thoughtful, finely nuanced album that expresses the world through the eyes and voice of a tribesman traveling the roads of earth — from the splendor of a Colorado pine forest to the soulful vibe of Memphis to the loves and losses of fellow travelers.

Even at night, it’s a beautiful view.

Mon., Mar. 16 AUSTIN, TX El Mercado
Tues., Mar, 17 AUSTIN, TX Sun Radio’s Live Broadcast from El Mercado (SXSW)
Wed., Mar. 18 AUSTIN, TX Guitartown/Conqueroo Kickoff at The Dogwood (SXSW)
Fri., Mar., 20 AUSTIN, TX Opas! (SXSW)
Sat., Mar. 21 AUSTIN, TX Music Road Records/Red House Records Label Party at Zax (SXSW)
Fri., Mar. 27 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck
Sat., Mar. 28 AUSTIN, TX Strange Brew
Sun., Apr. 12 AUSTIN, TX Strings on Grass
Fri., Apr. 24 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck
Sat., Apr. 25 AUSTIN, TX Strange Brew
Thurs., Apr. 30 DALLAS, TX Kessler Theater
Fri., May 1 DALLAS, TX Klyde Warren Park
Sat., May 2 TULSA, OK Guthrie Green
Sat., May 9 AUSTIN, TX Threadgill’s South
Fri., May 16 CHEROKEE, TX Cherokee Creek Music Festival
Thurs., June 4 AUSTIN, TX Listening Room at Winflo Osteria
Sat., June 6 PERKINS, OK Cimarron Breeze Concert Series
Fri., June 19 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck
Sat., June 20 AUSTIN, TX Strange Brew
Sat., July 4 CHICAGO / BERWYN, IL FitzGerald’s American Music Festival
Sun., July 5 EGG HARBOR, WI Peg Egan Sunset Concert Series
Fri., July 17 DALLAS, TX Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse
Sat., July 18 EDMOND, OK The Bottle Cap Barn
Fri., July 24 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck
Sat., July 25 AUSTIN, TX Strange Brew
Tues., Aug., 4 RIDGEFIELD, CT Concert in the Park
Tues., Aug. 11 OCCIDENTAL, CA Occidental Center for the Arts
Wed., Aug. 12 SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA Valhalla Art., Music and Theatre Festival
Thurs., Aug. 13 WINTERS, CA Palms Playhouse
Fri., Aug. 14 SANTA BARBARA, CA SOhO Restaurant and Music Club
Sat., Aug. 15 PASADENA, CA Levitt Pavilion



Artist Photo