Zydeco To Go
Feed your Mardi Gras fever with some of these recent hot releases.
Thursday, February 22, 2001
Mardi Gras is a state of mind as much as anything else. Sure, maybe to do it right, you need to party, to eat, drink and dance until you throw up and fall down. That''s one form of indulgence, and one way to celebrate Fat Tuesday, the last party opportunity before Ash Wednesday marks the abstinent days of Lent.
But there are other ways to overindulge. Like with music. Whether you''re just planning to celebrate this year''s Mardi Gras at home or you''re planning a private party, these recent CDs can provide a great soundtrack to your festivities.
Cachagua Playboys, self-released
For the last several years, the Cachagua Playboys have been serving a Cajun-based blend of music to local audiences, and last month they released their debut, self-titled CD. The Playboys are the first to admit they don''t really do traditional Cajun music, so there''s no crime in pointing out that the music on the album is a blend of styles that rely principally on Cajun instrumentation, including rubboard, fiddle and accordion. But songs like "Make the Best of What You Got" add a saxophone to the mix, and "Down to the River" is quite guitar-driven. You almost have to come up with a new pigeonhole for the Playboys--call it CaliCajun, a rootsy mix of Zydeco, rock and country with an almost laid-back California backbeat. (It''s not like the Cachagua Playboys would be alone in that category: You also could put Mumbo Gumbo and the Sundogs in there, too.) Even if you''re not entirely sold on the Clifton Chenier hardcore Zydeco thing, you want to get this light, upbeat set of waltz, two-step and rock stylings into your collection.
(And if you want to catch the Cachagua Playboys live, they''ll be playing at Sly McFly''s on Tuesday night during Cannery Row''s Mardi Gras celebration.)
Various Artists, Putomayo World Music
If you want to compare the Playboys to more traditional bands'' offerings, pick up Cajun, a sampler CD put out this year by Putomayo. The album contains a dozen songs by the same number of bands. In the traditional waltz and two-steps it''s easy to hear the French folk-music influence Acadians brought with them to southern Louisiana when they fled the English takeover of Nova Scotia in the 1700s. This probably isn''t an album for everyone--if you haven''t acquired or inherited a taste for this music, you''re probably going to turn a deaf ear to its richness. But if you''re coming into Cajun music by way of, say, bluegrass or country-western music, or if you''re searching for the roots of Zydeco, this is great way to do your research.
To the Country
The Bluerunners, Rounder
More accessible to more people are the Bluerunners. Their debut CD 10 years ago was enough to send shivers down your spine and needles through your heart. Even though I can''t find my copy of that CD, one of the songs from the album, "Hellride," still razors through my brain from time to time. Although these guys hail from South Louisiana, they''re no more traditional than the Cachagua Playboys--but they''re darker and more soulful. If you''ve only associated the sound of fiddle and accordion with happy/toe-tappy dance music or heart-bleeder love songs, the Bluerunners should change your mind. Their most recent album, 1998''s To the Country, is dark as a swamp and just as filled with things that slither in the night. Whether you''re into Zydeco, roots rock or just good soulful songwriting, you want to get your hands on a Bluerunners'' album.
Give Him Cornbread, Live!
Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, Rounder
This is may be the best album on my list. Probably nobody in the ''90s did more to revive interest in Zydeco music than Beau Jocque--certainly nobody burned more intensely with the spirit of the music. Sadly, for those of us who love his music, Beau Jocque died in 1999 at the too-young age of 47, and Cornbread marks the last new recording we''re likely to get. But what a legacy to leave! The CD chronicles a 1993 concert performed in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Jocque was riding high on the success of a recording of "Give Him Cornbread" that became the biggest Zydeco hit of the ''90s. Jocque goes balls-out in this soul-draining exhibition of traditional music ratcheted up to a level beyond punk. If you can sit still while Jocque and his band scream, holler and tear through this hour of R&B-inflected music, then you''re dead--or might as well be. What you have here are the souls of Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix repackaged and delivered behind the steamiest, most passionate vocals and accordion you''re likely to ever hear. If you only have the cash to buy one album this month--and I don''t care what kind of music you usually buy--get this one. You got dance grooves, blues and soul all wrapped up in one magnificent package.
Sonny Landreth, Sugar Hill
In a league almost all his own is slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, whose roots-and-blues rock is so thoroughly "Louisiana" that you can''t ignore it. Over the last few years, Landreth has probably become best known as the lead guitarist in John Hiatt''s band. That''s cool, very cool. But it''s too bad that Landreth isn''t spending more time on his own work. A few years ago, Landreth headlined a Fat Fry in Aptos, and his extended rendition of "Congo Square" remains one of the Fry highlights--he laid down such a trance-like groove, and it lasted so long, that the security people finally gave up trying to control the crowd crushing the stage. And Levee Town is ample evidence that Landreth is an accomplished--and growing--songwriter with a rich, almost literary style, all his own. Here are the first lines to the title song: "Sunlight blinking through the cypress knees/Lays shadow steps in front of Jacob and me/As if we''re guided by the heavens'' eye/On a ladder down to the levee town..." Landreth''s music is the kind of stuff that feeds body, brain and soul--you can dance to it, drive to it or just plain listen to it.