various artists,
Allons en Louisiane:
The Rounder Records Guide
to Cajun Music, Zydeco
and South Louisiana

(Rounder, 1999)

Here are two discs that are guaranteed to get the good times rolling, both on your CD player and in your CD-ROM drive. Allons en Louisiane is the perfect introduction to the music and folk culture of Louisiana.

Let's look at the CD-ROM first. It has both the good and bad qualities of most CD-ROM presentations. Among the better features are the Quicktime movie recipes in which Al Berard shows you how to cook a Crawfish Etoufee and Joann Delafose demonstrates a mouth-watering Sauce Piquant. There are also simple lessons in dancing both the Zydeco Running Man and the Traveling Two Step, which should quickly have you out on the dance floor. The musicians are divided into the more traditional cajun and the more rockin' zydeco. While there are numerous photos and taped interviews, some performance footage would have been nice. There's also a section on Mardi Gras, which is little more than a slide show with music. A guide to southern Louisiana clubs and restaurants requires a lot of pointing and clicking, but offers little more than the basic information and a couple of photos of each location. Still, it's a nice concept, and does a good job at presenting, in broad strokes, a less than comprehensive look at Louisiana.

As for the musical CD, like the CD-ROM, it shows both the good and less good qualities of cajun and zydeco music. First off, the music is highly dependent on rhythm. It will have you tapping your feet and jumping up to dance faster than nearly any other musical genre. However, the melodic and harmonic variety can be stupefyingly dull. This is, of course, folk music, and lack of harmonic sophistication comes with the territory. It is often balanced by brilliant instrumental improvisation, and that is sometimes (but not often enough) the case with many of these songs.

Take the first tune, "'Tit monde," performed by Geno Delafose with Christine Balfa and Dirk Powell, which consists of I-IV chords played over and over again. All of these musicians are brilliant (particularly Powell, who has taken old-time music and transformed it into an art form that can hold its own against any musical genre), but the song gives them little to do except saw away, keeping the beat and the wall of sound rolling along. It's great music for partying or dancing or having in the background, but doesn't really reward concentrated listening.

There's more interest in the next song by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, which offers David Greely room to stretch out with a hot fiddle solo, but after a while, the ear starts to drift. Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin's offering gets us back to I-IV again (minor this time), with some nice vocal harmonies (and lyrics in English rather than French -- with all the other stuff on the CD-ROM, it would have been nice to have some translations), but there's just not enough musical content to retain my interest, beyond a few nice accordion solos and a lot of yelling "Whoo-ha!"

Beausoleil is next, and it's easy to see why they're the premier cajun band. The song has a nice hook, and there's more to listen to (even though it suffers from the two-chord curse as well). Balfa Toujours provides a nice little waltz as a change of pace, and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas show why zydeco is basically a rhythm-dependent music. This one rocks righteously.

Eddie Lejeune plays some more traditional cajun, and Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers get funky with a twelve-bar blues with a zydeco shuffle. Next, Boozoo Chavis gets even more minimalist with a one-chord song, "Who Stole My Monkey," and Al Berard and the Basin Brothers play another waltz, this one with some haunting fiddle work. Geno Delfose returns with a more rocking zydeco feel than in his earlier number, but the two chord progression lingers (this time I-V rather than I-IV), and the instrumental line in the accordion repeats itself over and over. Yeah, I know it's traditional, but sometimes traditional can be very boring, and there's more of the same with Bois Sec Ardoin with Balfa Toujours, the difference being that Ardoin doesn't sing very well.

There's another less than mellifluous singing voice from D. L. Menard, although his song is a little more country, with such sidemen as Buck White, Jerry Douglas, Blaine Sprouse and Ricky Skaggs, who give a nice contrast to what we've heard so far. Bruce Daigrepoint has a damned nice voice, and there's some really interesting accordion work to be heard here. A great band and a fine recording. The CD closes with Li'l Brian and the Zydeco Travelers, more rock oriented and a little more fun than its predecessors, but still not very interesting.

Frankly, although the whole package is a good introduction to Louisiana's music and provides an effective overview, there are far better cajun and zydeco albums out there. Try any of Beausoleil's, which, even though it's one band, will still give you a wider variety of music than you'll find here. Scott Billington, the producer, has produced many far more interesting albums than this one.

Still, you'll have fun with this if you treat it the right way: invite a few friends over, stir up some gumbo, open a few beers, push back the furniture, and get ready to two-step the night away. The rhythm is infectious, and there's no better party music in the world.

[ by Chet Williamson ]



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