Balfa Toujours,
Live at Whiskey River Landing
(Rounder, 2000)

There can be something special about a live recording, especially if it's done in a place with which the band is familiar and comfortable. Live at Whiskey River Landing by Balfa Toujours captures the experience with style in a well-balanced and tightly produced recording.

Balfa Toujours is Christine Balfa, guitar, triangle and vocals; Kevin Wimmer, lead fiddle and vocals; Todd Aucoin, drums; Dirk Powell, accordion, low fiddle and vocals; and Craig Guillory, bass. Zydeco musician Geno Delafose sits in on drums on some of the tracks, including the final track, "Chez Geno," written in his honor.

The CD starts off with the crowd cheering a welcome as the accordion kicks off "La chandelle est allumˇe (The Candle is Alight)," by Powell and Balfa. It's about the struggles of the Cajuns in the face of first hard times as they were scorned by society, then retaining cultural integrity from those who would usurp it when it became "Cool to be Cajun." No matter what, Balfa sings (in French -- translations are provided in the liner notes), "The wind has changed / But the candle is still alight." The fiddle in this track has a rich flute-like tone and the rhythm is crisp and steady as vocals, fiddle and accordion hand off to each other.

"Whiskey River Special," also by Balfa and Powell, is a tribute to Angelle's Whiskey River Landing, and a live danceable one at the featuring smooth, nimble fiddling, a jazzy accordion, Balfa's husky vocals and a writhing bass line that doesn't quit.

The band also plays traditional numbers, an outstanding example of which is "Le Reel Frugˇ (The Frugˇ Reel) played "old style" with two fiddles, a triangle and plenty of energy. "Frank Dupuis a pris ma femme (Frank DuPuis Took My Woman)" is a cheerful bouncy two-step, and "La Valse des pins (The Waltz of the Pines)" is replete with resigned heartache.

Simply put, there isn't a bad track on the CD. The band's cohesive performance is impeccable, especially remarkable considering that this was recorded live. Each instrument and vocal takes its turn without overshadowing the other musicians. There's plenty of humor and good times, plus a couple of songs suitable for a snuggly slow dance with your sweetie. You can hear the crowd's reaction during and after the songs and the band keeps the between track banter to a more than acceptable minimum.

After the rocking blues song "Keep Your Hands Off of It" ("it" is a birthday cake -- uh yeah, sure), the crowd demands an encore. The band obliges with "Chez Geno," a brisk instrumental that just rocks with energy. After that, the crowd continues to demand more, the sound of which eventually fades. If you have the CD on repeat -- a more than likely event -- you then hear the crowd's cheering swell at the beginning, a neat effect.

Not only does Balfa Toujours keep the traditional Cajun spirit alive, the band makes a significant contribution to its cultural legacy. Get Live at Whiskey River Landing and let the good times roll.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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