When jazz and folk bed down together, the results usually divest the drive and invention from jazz and muffle the rootsy heart of folk. Norah Jones mixed these genres with a ubiquitous vengeance, but the risks often outweigh the reward for mere mortals. Local quintet Last to Show First to Go smartly wrangle a few key jazz elements on its second release, The Farmer John EP: Jay Lewis' sonorous upright bass provides a low, looming resonance, and Miriam Keller's trumpet blasts forth with part fanfare, part languor. Her muted solo at the open of "Far Be It" is pure film noir, all cigarette smoke and back-alley drizzle.
It's these flourishes that make the six-song EP a solid step for a band that showed promise but stylistic trepidation on its debut LP Short Cuts. Bredon Jones leads Last to Show First to Go with a gentle hand and a gentle voice, which make his lyrical jabs and darts both surprising and a little limp — he's a funny, biting writer who sounds a little too nice to tell us what he really thinks. But when he sets his sights on a target, as on the withering, moralizing "Far Be It" or the character study "Farmer John," Jones offers salt-of-the-earth commentary without coming off as too preachy. With the exception of some pretty folk and pop flourishes, such as Lewis' cello intro to "Short Cuts" and guitarist Mikey Naucus' warm, supportive backing vocals, LTSFTG folds in the roots-rock palette that's at the band's core.