Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers,
Give Him Cornbread, Live!
(Rounder, 2000)

Until his death of a heart attack at the age of 47, Beau Jocque (real name Andrus Espre) was one of zydeco music's "royalty," a performer whose energy and musicianship were hard to beat. In 1993, promoter Lawrence "Black" Ardoin, a zydeco musician in his own right, staged a battle of the bands between Beau Jocque and Boozoo Chavis, considered by many to be the reigning "king" of zydeco. Give Him Cornbread, Live! is Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers set from that competition, which more than 1,400 people attended.

Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers are Jocque (diatonic and triple-row accordions, vocals), Ray Johnson (guitar), Chuck Bush (bass), Wilfred "Caveman" Pierre (rubboard) and Steve "Skeeta" Charlot (drums). Together, they take zydeco music and push it to the limit.

The CD starts with Jocque's trademark "Give Him Cornbread," starting with the accordion playing a bouncy bit of "Shortnin' Bread." The percussion kicks in and the track takes off. The interplay of accordion and percussion, the steady rhythmic scratch from the rubboard and the give and take of the vocal play set the tone for the rest of the CD.

Don't expect lyrical depth here; the often suggestive vocals are more like another instrument and often tighten the tension. This is clearly music to move to and how or when something is said or sung is far more important than the content.

There is a similarity to many of the tracks, and in fact, "Give Him Cornbread" is reprised in "Beau Jocque Boogie." This isn't to say that the music is monotonous; rather, the same vibrant energy pulses steadily through all the tracks. Jocque demonstrates a range of styles in his choices, from traditional ("Grand Marais") to bluesy ("Brownskin Woman"). The inclusion of covers of two Boozoo Chavis songs, "Bad Bad Woman" and "Do It All Night," are clearly intended as a tribute rather than a taunt. (Incidentally, the "battle" was declared a draw.)

The only drawback to the CD is that the listener misses the visual element of watching the musicians play off each other, which would heighten the excitement even more. That's the tradeoff for a live recording, although clips from the set appear in Robert Mugge's film Kingdom of Zydeco.

Beau Jocque is no longer with us, but zydeco fans looking for fresh musical interpretations can feast on some of his best work with Give Him Cornbread, Live!.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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