Pinch Hits Due 7/29/98
By Art Menius
Although Cajun and Zydeco – the finest dance music indigenous to this hemisphere — comprise only a few of the many titles Rounder releases, the label has earned a dominant position in Louisiana French music. Since signing Beausoliel and during the 1980s, Rounder has issued many of the most significant records in the field. This year continues that trend with three killer projects.
Bois Sec Ardoin, an 82 year old African-American who is the current patriarch of Louisiana French Music, breaks a twenty year recording silence on Allons Danser (Rounder CD 6081). Backed by Balfa Toujours, Ardoin plays accordion with muscular grace and awesome expressiveness while his voice remains strong and soulful if no longer possessing much range. Most significantly, Bois-Sec learned his music before radio and records homogenized local sounds and Louisiana music split into black Zydeco and white Cajun. Allons Danser proves classic Louisiana music and the best traditional Cajun recording in more than a decade.
Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie represent the youth of Zydeco, the Louisiana Creole gumbo of Cajun and the blues. Their third record, La Chanson Perdue (Rounder CD 2151), finds Delafose and crew reviving the spirit of Zydeco’s early days with a much lighter and Cajun inflected sound than the blues heavy music of his peers. Delafose, who learned his music playing in his late father’s band from age eight, plays with young vigor and enthusiasm and is unafraid to record “Save The Last Dance For Me,” yet remains respectful of his roots and one of the few Zydeco artists to continue to sing mostly in French. He absorbed “La Chanson Perdue,” for example, from his dad who had picked it up from Bois Sec. Delafose’s love for the music filters clearly through the recording process creating an album virtually impossible not to like.
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys stand as the hot Cajun ensemble of the 1990s, playing virtually all the major roots music festivals. On Bayou Ruler (Rounder 6083), Riley makes his boldest musical statement to date, fusing rock and Cajun into a decidedly new sound. The title track seemingly owes more to the Moby Grape than the Balfa Brothers for Riley and company have fused rock, Cajun, Louisiana swamp pop (remember “Love is Strange”?), and Zydeco into a remarkable, propulsive style of their own. While Bayou Ruler does not lose touch with classic Louisiana music and includes several traditional pieces, the album takes their sound into places heretofore unexplored by Cajun musicians and the results proves thrilling for one of the world’s best dance bands.