Lousiana: Cajun, Creole, Zydeco and R&B

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This archive is not meant to be comprehensive, but you will find some great new recordings as well as some of our old favorites from the Crescent City to the Texas border.

Leo Soileau
Early American Cajun Music
Yazoo (www.shanachie.com)

cd cover The late twenties was a pivotal time for Cajun music recordings. In 1928, Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux waxed the first Cajun record with 'Allons a Lafayette.' Shortly thereafter, Amédé Ardoin, the Breaux Brothers, Douglas Bellard, Angelas LeJeune, Dennis McGee and others joined the ranks as 'recording stars.' In 1929, so did fiddler Leo Soileau, who is considered one of Cajun music's great innovators. This 19 track album details the three early phases of Soileau's recording career which begins with accordionist Mayeus LeFleur. On the song "Mama, Where You At," LeFleur weepingly pleads for his mother's return, a reality in that he intended to use the $100 session money to find her. Unfortunately, that never happened as nine days later, LaFleur was shot in a barroom quarrel. There's also two waltzes, the bluesy "La Valse Criminelle" which is now a standard and "Grand Basile," better known as "Grand Mamou." After LeFleur's death, Soileau hooked up with Moise Robin, a younger accordionist but stylistically very similar. Most of Soileau's recorded output was done with Robin, who was known for his passionate, yet complicated, unpredictable playing. As vocalists, the two are similar, with LeFleur having an edgier tension about his singing. Included here is "Easy Rider Blues," and the classics "La Valse Pènitentiaire" and the beautiful "Ma Chère 'Tite Fille." Two other tracks are double fiddle pieces with cousin Alius Soileau. In the thirties, as the accordion dropped out of favor, Soileau became an innovator of the string band craze, which is what's significant about this disc. It's an intriguing examination of Soileau's early career that reveals his ingenuity and ability to record in a spectrum of styles. - Dan Willging

Rosie Ledet
I'm a Woman
Maison de Soul (www.floydsrecords.com)

Zydeco is one of those thoroughly conventionalized musical genres in which the rules of the style seem set as in granite. A driving, common-time beat supports simple, repetitive accordion figures, the hypnotic effect often precluding even a single chord change in a song. Vocals follow a blues cadence, and lyrics blues topics: good times, bad times, love, lust or personal megalomania. As form follows function, zydeco is dance music, designed to be experienced live in sweaty surroundings, a performance art intimately collaborative with its undulating audience. How does a talented, enterprising performer break through to recognizable prominence in such a milieu? Rosie Ledet's path is to supplement her competent accordion skills with smooth, soulful vocals laced with just a hint of growl, and a passionate, naughty, sometimes downright nasty lyrical persona.

"I Don't Wanna Go Home" fits the zydeco recipe tightly, but Ledet's plaintive reluctance to return to a cold, lonely home is convincing, continually justifying just one more dance. "Closer to You" adds a bluesy chord progression for melodic interest, as well as dramatic pauses, but Ledet's growling vocal is the showstopper, adding a hot, greedy desire to the perspiration in this driving track. She's particularly forceful on the title track, a distaff braggin' chant set to formula zydeco; hear her, and the blues guitar, roar! Things do get nasty in "You Can Eat My Poussiére" - that low down cheater's gonna have to beg tonight. Ledet is also willing to break the rules, forsaking orthodoxy for more soulful pastures, as in "Kisses in the Wind," a sort of anti-romantic confession based on strummed guitar and a decidedly un-zydeco syncopation.

Zydeco lovers will get all they long for on "I'm a Woman," plus Rosie Ledet's engaging vocal and lyrical personality. It might even coax a few of those folks at the back table onto the dance floor. Come on, sweat! - Jim Foley

Beau Jocque
Check it Out, Lock it In, Crank it Up!
Rounder (www.rounder.com)

Louisiana's wildly popular zydeco powerhouse is back once again with an album that sounds pretty much exactly like his last five releases. Well, in two simple words, SO WHAT? This is premiere partying music for those who like zydeco's hyper push and pull groove with a little rock, funk and turntable scratching for extra bite. Nothing too complex or heady here, just Jocque's booming voice over a hungry accordion and a band determined to shake your ass off. Great covers include "Keep a Knockin'," the classic instrumentals "Tighten Up," "Tequila" and a handful of new originals. In a genre full of imitators, the aptly titled Check it Out, Lock it In, Crank it Up once again affirms Jocque as not exactly the most original songwriter, but the leader of one of the leaner, fiercer zydeco bands in the land. - Todd Dominey

Wade Frugé
Old Style Cajun Music
Arhoolie (www.arhoolie.com)

Wade Frugé, the Eunice, Louisiana musician who died in 1992, was one of Cajun music's most soulful, articulate fiddlers, an old-timey master of delicate grace notes, piercing chords and a rocking bow action that alternated between treble and bass. He learned his tunes from his grandfather Napoleon Frugé and later, a set of crying blues tunes from Douglas Bellard, who also taught Canray Fontenot. Frugé played a difficult style rich with generational influences (Dennis McGee, Sade Courville), yet he only played for enjoyment. He was never a professional dancehall musician, but as this recording shows, he played with brilliant technique solely for house parties.

This 25-track disc represents his lifetime recorded output. The first 15 tracks come from the previously released LP and include Marc and Ann Savoy (accordion and guitar) and Tina Pilione on bass. Vorance Barzas, who played in his father's original Mamou Playboys, sings several numbers in the a weeping Cajun style, including "'Tit Mamou," "Port Arthur Blues," and "La Valse Criminel." The other ten tracks come from various jam sessions that Arhoolie's Chris Strachwitz taped during a number of visits to Louisiana. Cajun enthusiasts will recognize many songs but there will be a few surprises as well. "The Milk Cow is Dead" is about finding a bovine carcass in the field; "La Valse à Wade Frugé" is a misery love song Frugé adapted to tell it his way. There's also several impressive twin fiddle duets like "Grandfather's Tune" with Pilione, "Gumbo Waltz" with Marc Savoy, and "Frugé's Waltz" with Michael Doucet. "Galope" is a masterful demonstration of advanced fiddle technique while "The Mardi Gras Song" is simply haunting. - Dan Willging

Rockin' Dopsie, Jr.
Turn Up The Zydeco!
Mardi Gras Records (800-895-0441)

In one sense, Rockin' Dopsie is the stuff made out of legends. No other zydeco rubboard scrapper has ever fronted a band; no other zydeco artist has the charismatic stage presence of the grinning, long haired, Stetson-topped Dopsie. He's one of zydeco's best showman. Yet, his colorful talents extend beyond the stage to the digitial medium as evidenced by this ripping disc. From the get-go, Rockin' and his twisting band waste no time getting it jumping with Buckwheat Zydeco's "Turn Up The Zydeco," followed by "Zydeco Party," an original that showcases brother "Dopsie" Rubin's snazzy accordion riffs. Fernest Arceneaux's version of "Zydeco Boogaloo" nearly turns into a free-for-all jam riot with knock-out solos from guitarist "Lil' Buck" Senegal, bassist Alonzo Johnson, harmonica player Patrick Williams, and saxists Jerry Embry and Jerry Jumonvile.

The party rolls on with the Funky Meters' "They All Ask'd For You," in which Rockin' responds to the trailing chorus with 'Your Mama,' 'The Pol-ice,' and other goofball stuff. There's a detour into the blues ("Rock Me, Baby," "Let The Good Times Roll") with powerhouse vocalist Marva Wright, a torch ballad ("There is Something on Your Mind") and a puzzling cover of Stephen Still's "Love The One You're With" that passes once you forget who wrote it. It's not zydeco for the next generation, it's good times for the present, and if it's supposed to be anything more, get a life. - Dan Willging

Steve Riley
Bayou Ruler
Rounder (www.rounder.com)

CD cover My ears recoiled on my first listen to Steve Riley's Bayou Ruler. After that it only got better and better. Those who like their Cajun music more traditional will probably not like this recording. Those with open minds will recognize that one of Cajun music's new generation of masters is simply taking the music to some new places. Riley and his excellent band boogie hard into the title track, with fiddle and Hammond-organ-sounding keyboard sailing in and out over the solid beat.

The spirit and beat of Zydeco, Excello R & B and swamp pop, and rock & roll pervade Bayou Ruler - but the spirit of the late Dewey Balfa hovers gracefully over the proceedings, beckoning the band back to the beginnings with poignantly sad Cajun waltzes and two steps. The biggest challenge to my ears was getting to accept smooth, country-rock vocal sound of songs like "Laisse-moi connaître," and "All for the Better." My ears, however, obliged quickly. One of several killer tracks on Bayou Ruler is "Chez Personne" (No Man's Land), whose words speak of alienation in a "grey world" peopled by "ghosts" - but whose beat is insistently calling to the dance, and whose assertive Cajun fiddling, on what amounts to an instrumental chorus, harks relentlessly back too both musical, family, and geographic roots. This is probably Steve Riley's most broadly accessible recording to date, and one that will draw many an unsuspecting listener through the familiar territory of rock & roll and R & B, back to the bayou, and the deeper roots of Dewey Balfa and Clifton Chenier. -Dwight Thurston

Kermit Ruffins
Barbecue Swingers Live
Basin St. Records (www.basinstreetrecords.com)

This is one of those live albums that keeps reminding you it's a live album; announcements between songs, performer-audience dialog ("I can't hear you!") and a couple of songs that get the audience into the performance but aren't as interesting to listen to after the fact. But there's also some good music here as well. The band, Ruffins on trumpet and vocals, plus trombone, piano, bass and drums, handle a number of styles with ease; Blakey-ish hard bop, blues, funk, rap, and not-too-traditional sounding Dixieland. There's no caricature involved in the performances, though. These players are young and inventive enough not to be mired in tradition. So their version of the war-horse "St. James Infirmary" is carried along by some good soloing that almost makes you forget how old the tune is, while "Killing Me Softly With His Song" almost sounds like an acoustic version of Miles Davis' mid-80s band. Ruffins has a slightly sour, cornet-like tone on trumpet, and seems to be influenced by Louis Armstrong as much as anyone else, though perhaps without Armstrong's power. He blends well with Corey Henry's trombone, and as a singer he's at least Armstrong's equal. There's an inconsequential solo trumpet version of "Star Spangled Banner" at the end of the CD, reminding everyone that the show is over and it's time to go home. Audience-pleasers aside, some solid playing from a versatile young band. - Joe Grossman

Cajun String Bands - the 1930's: Cajun Breakdown
Folklyric (www.arhoolie.com)

Arhoolie has dug into its extensive cajun vaults for a reissue of an assortment of fiddle-led groups of the 1930's. At that time the influence of southeast country music and southwest "hot" string band effected the repertoire and style of playing as well as curtailing the popularity of the button accordion that had ruled the recorded output of cajun music in the 1920's. Some of the tunes here are obvious adaptations from those non-cajun repertoires, but there is plenty of old cajun stuff to be found on this album along with the fusions of the `30's

J.B. Fuselier is featured on eleven and Luderin Darbone (with the especially western influenced Hackberry Ramblers) on seven of the 25 cuts. The rest are divided among Leo Soileau, Clifford Breaux and Hector Dubon. This may not be the greatest example of the genre but it documents an pivotal era in the development of cajun music. - Stacy Phillips

Magnolia Sisters
Prends Courage
Arhoolie (www.arhoolie.com)

The Magnolia Sisters are Ann Savoy and Jane Vidrine, who moved to Louisiana as adults and stayed on to love and live in the tradition.The instrumental action is shared by Ann's accordion and Jane's cajun fiddling. Both have a sufficiently deep understanding of the style to abjure flash for substance. The songs and lyrics (some altered a bit to reflect a female viewpoint) are the real focal points of this album. Several are unaccompanied. The enclosed lyrics and translations greatly help to appreciate the particular pathos, blues and imagery of cajun patois. The cuts cover the wide range of traditional song types culled from many sources. Savoy and Vidrine make the point that the album is different then the dance hall repertoire they play with their husbands (well known musicians in their own right).

They are assisted by Deborah Helen Viator, Lisa McCauley and Tina Pillone on vocals, guitars and second fiddle. Lots of groovy heart-tugging tunes including "Tit Monde," "Sur le Bord de L'eau," "Mama Roseanne," "La Robe Barree," "Tasso," and seventeen others. - Stacy Phillips

Joe Falcon
Cajun Music Pioneer

Joe Falcon was a master button accordionist and singer who recorded the very first cajun record in 1928. He was still cooking in 1963 when he was recorded at a dance club in Scott, Louisiana. Lionel Leleux is the fiddler and other featured soloist and, having played with Falcon since the early 1940's, is right in the groove.

In 1963 cajun music was not yet chic, and had barely been "discovered" outside of Louisiana. It was a perfect set up for relaxed, real music- veteran performers whose roots go deep into the musical fountain of tradition, performing for locals at a dance with plenty of room to stretch out.

I can't think of a better learning tool for those looking for a firm foundation in cajun fiddling. Leleux plays all the bluesy, slidey licks and employs a strong shuffle for rhythm accompaniment. He is tuned down a whole step to enable him to play key of A fingering with a key of G accordion. Falcon has the growling, burbling tone and syncopated style associated with best of cajun. Many of the cuts are standards like "LaCasine Special", "Allons A Lafayette" (great fiddle work on this) and "Colinda" among the fifteen tunes. The other band members are Allen Richard on guitar and Falcon's wife, Theresa on drums. When the latter starts whacking that cymbal, its time to two step. Prehistoric fiddle pickups, a tinny sound system and a band that has played together forever - a combination that will make lovers of old time cajun music drool.

This album is a reissue of a 1968 lp with five bonus cuts. - Stacy Phillips

Johnnie Allan
The Ultimate Louisiana Experience
Jin Records

He was the swamp pop god, the bayou singer who shook the south with his rugged Cajun and blues style. He's back, maybe a little mellower but no less the king. With his core band of Gerald Melancon (drums), Oran Guidry, Jr. (bass) and Tony Ardoin (guitar) he has put together a tribute to south Louisiana music, from Zydeco (Chénier's "I'm A Hog For You Baby") to his own original (Marty Robbins inspired) ballad "Sleeping On The Floor." He opens with the requisite 'gator tune, this time his own "Alligator Walk" and moves through a roll call of Louisiana styles, super-charged by guests like Steve Riley on accordion and Richard Comeux on dobro and steel guitars. - CF

L'Amour ou La Folie

While Johnny Allan hangs on to the sounds of the 60s and 70s, Michaeal Doucet and company continue to take the old songs and find new ways to twist them around. From the opening reel (a theme for a local news show), with its drumming piano and crazy back-beat to the last valse of lost love, Beausoleil captures Louisiana's music with surprising subtlety. They find the essence of center city New Orleans in "Danse Caribe," rife with fiddle and clarinet (courtesy of reed man Dr. Micheal White) in a jazzy duel, layered over a springing Latin-Caribbean percussion groove. Singer Augie Myers adds a bit of west Louisiana/east Texas boogie to the proceedings with his "Can't You See." Dr. White also reappears on a loopy, loping "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie," making the campy old Tin Pan Alley tune sing strangely sweet. There's never a dull moment on a Beausoleil album, whether it's a dedicated ode to tradition or a wry twist on the local sound. They choose not to choose between Love or Folly. Both work just fine. - CF

La Danse De La Vie

This Louisiana band has been doing it and getting it right for too long to remember. No fancy fusion but nary a retro bone in their collective bodies, Beausoleil has practically transformed the music world by playing the old songs like they are brand new, and the new songs like they were a hundred years old. In addition to a bundle of great cajun dance tunes and songs is a wonderful new ballad by Michael and Sharon Doucet, "Chanson Pour Ezra" that features Mary Chapin Carpenter on the vocals and "Attrape Mes Larmes," a waltz in homage to Dewey Balfa. This is the unpteenth recording by this talented band, and they never really change too much, they just get better and better.

Cajun Conja

I saw this is the "world music" bin at a local record store once. I guess all those French titles threw off some clerk. Then again, maybe it belongs there, as Cajun is one of the truly "local" cultures of America. It grew from continental migration, urban assimilation and rural defiance, absorbing what it needed to become truly unique, until after almost a century it became tradition. It is American gypsy music, in its way. Michael Doucet is one of its stauchest supporters, reviving music and musican alike over the course of his career. He is also one of its most shameless innovators, blending urban soul, popular rock and black creole with the Acadian roots of the music, keeping it alive and healthy by knowing the roots, but fertilizing it well with whatever is around. Cajun Conja is definately in the latter category; a stomping, rocking, grinding good time that never gets derivative. Beausoliel has developed a mixed reputation as well, cranky out traditional dance music one minute, and shaking the rafters with electric twang the next. Mandolins, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and percussion underscore the standard fiddle and accordion of Cajun music. - CF

Rebirth Brass Band
Here To Stay

Back in 1984 Rebirth Brass Band made a record for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label called Here To Stay and now after a number of successful records on Rounder they have proven the title to be true. Here To Stay is the band when they were fresh, young (very young!) and looking for a sound to latch on to. Reissued on CD, this live recording is still one of the best introductions you could have to the New Orleans brass band tradition, alive, growing and just plain fun. - CF

Rebirth Brass Band
Feel Like Funkin' It Up
Rounder (www.rounder.com)

There was first Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall, then Dr. John, the Nevilles and the Dirty Dozen. Move over, boys, because there are new kids on the block. Rebirth is a collection of 1984 high school buddies who decided it was time for their generation to make its mark in the Crescent City. This is classic New Orleans brass, a gumbo of jazz, dixieland and soul, but this stew is spiced with a file of funk. The standards are here, like Sam Theard's "You Rascal, You," and the oft-covered "Big Chief" (the tune I want played on my grave), and they also do a stomping job on Fats Domino's "I'm Walking." But what's this? "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" with a tuba and a wicked back beat-and no smoke-and-mirrors show! Their originals aren't too shabby, either. The title track cooks, and they even supply some social soul in their anti-crack rave-up, "Leave That Pipe Alone." But my all-around favorite is their own "Mexican Special," a vaguely mariachi riff that gets buried in the funk and gives everyone in this young troupe a chance to strut. The Rebirth Brass Band has one foot firmly in tradition, but the other is steppin' to its own tune, and you would do well to dance along. - CF

Rebirth Brass Band
ReBirth Kickin' It Live

And kick it, they do. The New Orleans music scene is legendary, and we are lucky to be witnessing one of its many popular rejuvenations. Louis, The Kidd, The Tchopotoulis, then Dr. John, The Nevilles and now a whole crewe of young new voices, have all led the musical world through the carnival sound of the Crescent. There have always been New Orleans influences, and always New Orleans have absorbed, and reinvented, the influences of the world. On their second album, ReBirth are still leading the parade, a gang of teen and early twenties musicians with more talent than a mere CD can hold. They quote from their predecessors with ease, and paraphrase their peers with wild abandon. African riffs they heard from Masakela, Motown from their parents' collections, even insinuations of hip hop and reggae are in here. New Orleans has stayed lean and mean by moving on constantly, looking back but never freezing up, and this band epitomizes that attitude. The horns and drums may come from an earlier generation, but the music and the message are as contmporary as a Louisiana sunrise, familiar, but brand new everytime. Kickin' It Live gives you a good idea of what the real thing is. But better still, watch for them live. The feel of that tuba, the shriek of that trumpet, and the pure fire of this young band can be copied onto tape, but never fully realized until you share the same room with them. - CF

Masters Of Cajun and Creole
Music Of The World (www.musicoftheworld.com)

A live recording made my MOTW and The World Music Institute in 1986, released in the mid-90s on CD. Canray Fontenot, Alfonse Ardoin, Dennis McGhee and Sady Courville are backed by Michael Doucet and Billy Ware on some of the best Louisiana music you can get.

Zydeco Shootout At El Sid O's

How do you keep it alive and fresh without silly pretense or clever chicanery? If there's an answer, you may be able to find it in the six bands on thiscollection. Recorded at El Sid O's Zydeco and Blues Club, a party place in Lafayette, the zydeco capital, Shootout provides a positive prognosis for the Louisiana rhythm and blues scene. Bands like Pee Wee and The Zydeco Boll Weevils are fresh crawfish compared to the frozen-food-section big production values of Buckwheat Zydeco or the slicker updates of Sonnier. While there are undeniable new influences from pop, jazz and other styles, the roots are still strong. Even in the far reaches of the set, like Warren Caesar's reggae tune "Cocaine Go Away," the groove holds on to the Louisiana mud. Chicago R&B lives in Jude Taylor and The Burning Flames, with guitars and saxophones wailing and accordions replacing the Hammond organ. Also notable is Zydeco Force, another band whose offerings include a heavy, stomping waltz. This collection proves once again that zydeco thrives as America's great dance music; a party without pretense. - CF

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