For the last 14 months, Ashley Warren has taken her friends on a journey.
She has poured out her heart on Facebook, sending up searing expressions of love and grief for a man she calls "my best friend. He was my travel partner, my business partner, my life partner, my companion ... my partner in all ways."
Her departed is Austin roots rocker Jimmy LaFave, who died of cancer in May of 2017 at 61. LaFave continued to sing and tour even after being diagnosed with a savagely rare sarcoma in June of 2016 that metastasized five months later.
He attended a tribute concert in his honor at the sold-out Paramount Theatre in Austin three days before he died. Confined to a wheelchair and with a voice that could barely muster a whisper, LaFave closed the show with a stirring rendition of "Goodnight, Irene."
But that's not all. Even while suffering the worst that cancer could deliver, he made his way to his Austin studio in hopes of recording 100 songs near the finish line. He fell short but still managed to cut 20, which Music Road Records will release on July 13 as the album Peace Town.
Under the circumstances, LaFave's finale is surprisingly full of energy, delivering the kind of roadhouse rock and tender ballads he brought often to Dallas, to Poor David's Pub, Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse, the Kessler Theatre and even Klyde Warren Park. He sang at its opening.
Warren met LaFave in 2010 at a house concert at the home of her cousin, Dallas energy executive Kelcy Warren, who, together with LaFave, launched Music Road Records.
July 12 would have been LaFave's 63rd birthday. Ashley Warren used the opportunity to address a Facebook post to LaFave by celebrating the release of Peace Town, which she called "the final gift you fought so hard to deliver to your fans."
She saluted the musicians who play on the record, who marveled at "that one last push of the life force you still had inside of you — for one last imprint on the musical landscape you graced us with so well."
She describes the loss of LaFave as having given her an experience cruelly devoid of what to expect.
"I had never lost even a friend," she says. "You go from being around someone 24/7 ... to nothing. I don't think you can cope with each individual piece of the loss. I'm still dealing with trying to grasp at those pieces."
With a wry laugh, Warren says, "I still talk to Jimmy. I write him letters," which run the gamut from the mundane to the major. Most of all, she copes by focusing on "his music, this final album, and his photography."
Warren recently staged an art exhibit in Austin made up of portraits of Americana taken by LaFave on his travels, many of which she shared.
"I focus on all the projects that are possible with his music and photography and any film footage we can find, and that brings me joy. To be able to share his work with his fans truly brings me joy."
Born in Wills Point, 49 miles east of Dallas on U.S. Highway 80, LaFave moved with his family to Mesquite and Oklahoma, where he spent his teenage years. His mom bought him his first guitar with S&H Green Stamps (remember those?). Along the way, he penned such terrific songs as Never Is a Moment and Only One Angel, which during the 1980s won him a New Folk award at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an honor he shares with Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Nanci Griffith.
LaFave had a rare knack for singing covers, such as "Walk Away, Renee," which the Left Banke recorded in 1966 and which KERA-FM (90.1) played repeatedly on Lone Star Saturday Night. LaFave often credited the station, with his trademark chuckle, for "making me famous in Dallas."
So, Peace Town is a clever mixture of originals and covers. The album showcases versions of Robbie Robertson's "It Makes No Difference," Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land" and "Let My Love Open the Door" by Pete Townshend of The Who.
The record includes three songs for which LaFave composed the music to lyrics written by Woody Guthrie: The title track, "Salvation Train" and "Sideline Woman." LaFave was a major force behind the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, held each year in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Okla.
Peace Town adds a pair of covers of songs by Oklahoma artists: Leon Russell's "Help Me Through the Day" and J.J. Cale's "Don't Go to Strangers." A critic once dubbed LaFave "a red-dirt Van Morrison." It's a red-dirt resonance LaFave brings to "My Oklahoma Home (It Blowed Away)," by Bill Cunningham.
Peace Town would not be complete, of course, without covers of songs by LaFave's favorite artist, Bob Dylan: "My Back Pages," "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and "What Good Am I?" During his career, LaFave recorded more than 100 Dylan songs.
LaFave wrote the music and Kelcy Warren wrote the lyrics for "A Thousand By My Side." LaFave alone wrote three other songs on Peace Town: An "Untitled" track near the end, "Minstrel Boy Howling at the Moon" and "Ramblin' Sky."
The album closes with "Goodbye Amsterdam," by Tim Easton. Amsterdam, where LaFave played often, was one of his favorite cities. There, he routinely played to sold-out crowds and performed often on what critics call the Dutch equivalent of The David Letterman Show.
Amsterdam inspired one of Bryan Peterson's lasting memories of LaFave, whose tour of the Netherlands took place near the end.
"When we were on the Holland tour, he was really in the throes of it," says Peterson, who designed the cover art for Peace Town and who often played piano in LaFave's band. "And to see his head in his hands backstage after the first encore -- and having given all he could give -- to see him get up and walk back onstage for a second encore was unbelievable. I thought, 'Wow, how does he have it?' "
Warren saw the same endurance during Peace Town.
"When you think of a musician, you think lungs, you think air," she says. "You think breathing, and here he is, full of lung tumors. Here's this guy, against all odds," producing an album that serves as a sweetly fitting epitaph for a beloved Texas musician.