various artists,
(Putumayo, 2000)

Zydeco brings together a sampling from some of the hottest names in zydeco music.

According to the informative liner notes, at which Putumayo excels, zydeco music in its simplest definition is "dance music of the black Creoles of Louisiana." Like any traditional music, though, its definition and interpretation is anything but simple or static. Certainly, Zydeco demonstrates the range of possibilities in zydeco music. Zydeco music also shares elements with Cajun music, the cultures differ in their heritage, and overall, Cajun and zydeco music have taken different directions.

Zydeco music features two main instruments: the accordion and the rubboard, a sheet of corrugated tin worn over the shoulders like a full tunic made from a washboard. If the thought of an accordion gives you sudden Lawrence Welk flashbacks, fear not. The accordions on this CD rock right down to the last tremolo.

The Creole Zydeco Farmers get things going with "Creole Farmers Stomp," a song with a beat that should pull you right out of your chair. There's a mini-tribute to some zydeco favorites -- Zydeco Joe, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas and Boozoo Chavis -- but the main focus is that the Creole Farmers are "gonna keep you from settin' down." Indeed!

Keith Frank follows with the reggae-influenced "Co Fa." Its upbeat melody belies the lyrics -- "Tell me why you broke my heart." The contrast, though, between the lyrics and the melody reflect a cheery resilience.

While zydeco is male-dominated, woman have made their mark as well, as Rosie Ledet proves in "You're No Good For Me" with her powerhouse vocals and the urgent and jazzy accordion backed with sax. Queen Ida and Her Zydeco Band gives a Creole spin to a cover of "My Girl, Josephine." Her honey-gravel voice belts out the song with a sassy touch.

Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers ask "What You Gonna Do?" in a driving bluesy lament; unfortunately for zydeco lovers, Jocque died of a heart attack in 1999. Clifton Chenier, one time reigning King of Zydeco, is also deceased; according to the liner notes, Chenier "embodied the best of [Creole] culture." His "Calinda," performed with the Red Hot Louisiana Band, is a fresh and lively zydeco classic.

Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas put in an appearance with "I'm in Love," the ultimate slow dance song, while Boozoo Chavis and the Magic Sounds warn "Lula Lula Don't You Go to Bingo" in a shuffle written for his daughter-in-law, a bingo enthusiast. Buckwheat Zydeco, one of the best known names in the business and the first zydeco musician to sign with a major record label offers "I'm on the Wonder," a resonant cover of a Clifton Chenier song.

The sole instrumental track is from Jude Taylor and His Burning Flames, "Burnin' Flames Special," a soul-zydeco mix which will go a long way toward dispelling any lingering Lawrence Welk nightmares. Joe K K and Zydeco Force is headed by brothers Jeffery and Herbert "Broom Stix" Broussard, whose family has long been involved in zydeco music, and their cover of zydeco classic "Hoochie Coochie Man" is energetic and passionate.

As with the Broussard brothers, zydeco is also a family tradition for Geno Delafose, who appears here with "Bye Bye Mon Neg." Delafose's music promotes the traditional Creole roots of zydeco while at the same time exploring zydeco connections to other musical traditions. Another mix of musical traditions caps the CD with Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin' and "Stay In or Stay Out -- Pass the Dutchie." The blend of zydeco and reggae-lite is enthusiastic and infectious; it'll have you tapping your toes at the very least, if not on your feet, dancing. This is one group I'd love to see perform live.

Kudos to Putumayo for pulling together a comprehensive and cohesive sampler; points also for the attractively designed all-in-one packaging and the thoughtfully written liner notes.

Having a dull day? Pop Zydeco into the CD player, take a tip from the Creole Zydeco Farmers and "party 'til the cows come home."

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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