various artists,
Louisiana Gumbo
(Putumayo World Music, 2000)

Putumayo puts out a nice line of CDs devoted to a particular style, and including a number of different musicians who work therein. Louisiana Gumbo is among these, and while I'd expected either zydeco or Dixieland jazz -- the two styles I associate the most with Louisiana -- this is a collection of blues and R&B. None of the twelve tracks has a strong zydeco sound, although on some one can detect a bit of its influence, particularly in the rhythms.

The CD opens with one of the strongest tracks, Charles Sheffield's "It's Your Voodoo Working." It's in one of the blues/R&B styles I like the best, with its minor key and deep sound. Percy Mayfield's "Louisiana" is another, by the man who wrote such classic songs as "Hit the Road, Jack." Lynn August's "Lead Me On" is a sweet, deep and sexy love song in this style, with the addition of an accordion for a touch of zydeco.

Rockie Charles' "Festis Believe in Justice" is a solid R&B song, with something of a message. Carol Fran and Clarence Holliman's "Door Poppin'" is another, with some nice horn work setting off Fran's rich voice. "It Ain't the Same Thing" by Johnny Adams is smooth funk, and also has a message: "It's hard these days to tell the real from the fake." The Neville Brothers blame "Voodoo" for their feelings in a dark, smooth groove.

"African Gumbo" by James Booker is an instrumental treat. Booker's piano playing is truly amazing. Eddie Bo's "Piano Roll" shows off his ability, with a very bluesy sound and a variety of improvisational styles, both in the piano and guitar.

"Ti Na Na" by Clifton Chenier blends the blues with zydeco on one of the album's most zydeco-influenced tracks, a perfect example of what one might imagine when one hears the words "Louisiana blues." Rockin' Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters' song, "I'm Coming Home," is more bluesy with its zydeco influences most noticeable in the instrumental solos and in the accordion accompaniment to the vocals. Snooks Eaglin finishes the CD with a classic blues sound in "Nine Pound Steel."

The liner notes tell us a brief biography of the artists included, and made fascinating reading. They also include a recipe for a meatless "Gumbo Z'Herbes" that looks pretty good and is said to bring friendship and luck; I thought this was an enjoyable touch!

All in all, this is an excellent collection of blues and R&B. I wish they had included more than one track with a female artist; for me, that imbalance makes an album less rich than it could be. I still recommend this album to people who love blues or zydeco or both, and who are interested in the blending of these with funk.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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