Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas,
Let's Go!
(Rounder, 2000)

Nathan Williams is a brilliant accordionist, and he and the Zydeco Cha Chas have made a wonderful CD. While keeping a solid zydeco feel, they incorporate other musical traditions into the mix -- most notably several styles of blues, and some reggae -- as well as adding significant lyrics to the tradition on several songs, an expansion of the often perfunctory lyrics often typical of the form. The fourteen original songs make up a strong, catchy and well-paced album of this infectious musical style.

"Let's Go!," "Zydeco Rumble," "Cricket Leg Zydeco," "El Sid O's Party," "Oh Mom" and "Le Bon Manager" are all original songs firmly within the zydeco tradition. The sparse lyrics do not distract the listener from dancing ... or, at least, wanting to! They also display the musicianship of the performers better than the songs that focus more on the story-telling lyrics of other songs. "Zydeco is All I Know" has more words, but follows the zydeco tradition of it itself being the main subject of the song.

"El Sid O's Party" also displays some the blues influences that blend with the zydeco style to make this music distinctive. It's a fast tune, and reminds me of some very early rock 'n' roll, with the chord progressions, and the space given to the musicians for improvisation. "Hard Times" is the album's longest song and is also solidly within both the blues and the zydeco traditions, the lyrics mourning the difficulties life brings while the music helps one to move on.

Love is the topic of several songs -- in its most inclusive definition, anyway. In "You Don't Love Me No More" the title speaks for itself. "Too Much Wine" tells of a girl who enjoyed one aspect of the evening a little too well for her escort's taste. And "Can't Get Nuthin', Sucka" tells the tale of a woman who did not follow an expensive date with the, er, favors her escort expected -- and who told him so bluntly.

Both "Put a Hump in Your Back" and "Everything Happens for the Best," with its reggae influences, are encouraging songs to look for the best and to keep on going despite hard times, bad luck and the consequences of bad decisions. The second one is a bit more ambiguous than the first; the singer does not seem convinced that things happen for the best, especially not when dealing with consequences, and this adds wry humor.

I like this album a lot. I've heard other songs from Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas on the radio and have enjoyed them immensely. (I'm fortunate to be barely within listening range of Emerson College's WERS station, which plays a wide assortment of world music every afternoon.) I was very pleased to have the chance to listen extensively to an entire album of theirs, and it's one I'll enjoy in the future. I'm particularly fascinated by the way Williams' accordion takes the musical place of the harmonica on the bluesier songs, and it's even more interesting when it's joined by Scott Billington's harmonica -- the similarities and differences between the sounds play off each other nicely. Williams' incorporation of blues and a bit of reggae into the style adds variety and energy to the mix.

The liner notes are clean and contain a brief essay on Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas and their music. No song lyrics, but the singing is clear enough that one can hear them -- and elaborate and poetic lyrics are not exactly zydeco's point!

In short, this is a wonderful, exciting and lively album, and I can't think of anyone who wouldn't like it!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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