Keep the Louisiana parishes in your prayers this week…looks as if Isaac didn’t hurt NOLA so much, but out in bayou and Cajun country, tough times. And since, alas, our Louisiana trip has been delayed, I can only musically travel there via you-tube.
Unlike some, taken in as per usual by that gettin-old rock thing, my sort of playlist begins with Louis Armstrong and ends with the likes of Zydeco Joe. (I currently pay the more-expensive nursing-home insurance rate, so as to guarantee my Zydeco Joe visits!)
Surely you’ve heard how great Cajun and zydeco music can be, right? Sometimes, though, you do get exposed to some C-level stuff, say at a street fair, and it sounds forgettable. Let’s remedy that here.
The place to begin is Les Blank’s great documentary J’ai Été Au Bal (I went to the ball). Blank has done a number of films on regional music, providing not-be-missed documentaries on Tex-Mex Conjunto, a beautifully-filmed one on Clifton Chenier, and a fascinating one on acoustic blues-songster Mance Lipscomb. Sometimes young Bobby Zimmerman had beautiful dreams at night where he managed to sound 10% like Mance. A good model, though…Bob always had the good taste. But I digress…
From Blank, let’s go to some Cajun that’s more country-music radio friendly. Back in the day Jo-El Sonnier had some fine hits, perhaps my favorite is the road-trip special “Louisiana Blues,” but he also has I think one of the best versions of the Cajun song of songs, “Jolie Blon” out there. You can find both those, as well as D.L. Menard’s best recording “Lacassine Special, and Clifton Cheneir’s (“Zodico Stomp”) too, on this collection. Jimmy C. Newman has a fine updated countrified take on the Cajun sound; another contemporary group is L’Angelus, often too watered-down or boringly “Celtic” for my tastes, but able to rip-it when paired with old-time musicians, and potentially interesting to First Things readers by their being proudly Catholic and in a Christian way, more than in an ethnic pride way.
As for Zydeco, Clifton Chenier remains the king, although Buckwheat Zydeco made a number of fine recordings…I like this Dylan cover of his. There’s also a charming film, Schultze Gets the Blues, about a German accordionist whose life is changed by hearing Zydeco. But remember, it’s Chenier you want. The Arhoolie recordings from the mid-60s to early 70s. He had a great feel for the blues, the waltzes, and when his band charged full bore…LOOK OUT. Can you find me a hotter clip of any artist whatsoever? Good luck…
Exhausted and happy, we’ll close with this easy Zydeco Joe clip, taken from another documentary, and say a prayer for all the Louisiana bayou folk in the wake of Isaac.