MP3 Monday: May 22, 2006

Week Four of MP3 Monday centers on my trip back home to south Louisiana weekend before last — some excellent Cajun and zydeco music. As always, songs will be available for download for a week, so grab ’em quick.
1. “I’m Coming Home” by C.J. Chenier. From the album My Baby Don’t Wear No Shoes (1993).
C.J. Chenier is stuck in the same bind as Michael Andretti or Emilio Estevez: going into the same business as your very successful father. His dad Clifton Chenier was the self-proclaimed “King of Zydeco” — even appearing on stage wearing a crown — and no one disputed the title. If anyone could be said to have invented the genre, it’s Clifton.
But C.J. has done well for himself. He initially shunned zydeco music, but his dad convinced him to join his touring band, and when Clifton died, C.J. took over leadership of the Red Hot Louisiana Band. This track (written by his father, with uncle Cleveland Chenier on rubboard) is classic dancehall zydeco — a strong ’50s blues feel and excellent slow-dance potential.
C.J.’s latest latest album, the somber and hurricane-themed The Desperate Kingdom of Love, came out earlier this month. It features what I am going to assume is his first P.J. Harvey cover.
It sounds interesting, from the excerpts I can find online, but puhleeze can someone in south Louisiana learn how to mike drums? So many Cajun/zydeco bands sound amazing live but flat and indistinguishable on record, and the biggest reason is that the drums get miked all wrong — all bright and shiny and foreground. Most good south Louisiana music needs grit, and that’s hard to get when producers insist on a clean mix. Seriously, throw some punk-rock producer at a good zydeco band and you could make it cook. And maybe you’d get some young people interested, instead of the 50-plus crowd you get at too many Cajun/zydeco shows these days.
(The same is true of most contemporary blues and a lot of jazz — when you smooth all the dirty, skronky, dissonant goodness off it, you’re left with technically sound but boring pap.)
2. “Zydeco Gris Gris” by The Pine Leaf Boys. Recorded live at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, May 6, 2006.
Saw these guys with my friends in Lafayette weekend before last, and I love the fact they have the same goal I just outlined. (Wilson Savoy, quasi-leader of the Pine Leaf Boys, told my friend Julia after the show that their goal is to get hot young women to go to their shows. Now that’s the right way to look at it.) The Pine Leaf Boys are all in their early 20s and play fast and hard — they’re self-proclaimed traditionalists, but with an attitude.
(I love that on their web site they quote my old school buddy Josh Caffery: “The live performances of the Pine Leaf Boys are a revelation of anarchy and reverence and manic exuberance funneled through traditional musical forms.” For fun, here’s a photo of me and Josh C. at age six.)
Wilson comes from a noted Cajun-music family: his dad Marc Savoy is one of the great lions of the culture and a maker of accordions; mom Ann Savoy wrote the best book on Cajun music and is in the Magnolia Sisters; and older brother Joel Savoy was in the great Red Stick Ramblers, which started the nascent Cajun/Western Swing movement, along with Josh Caffery. Not sure what he’s up to these days, but I do know an ex-girlfriend of mine developed a serious crush on him after a Ramblers show a few years back.
Anyway, if the Boys ever come to your neck of the woods, trust me: go see them. Here’s another song from that Breaux Bridge show, “Pine Grove Blues.” And here’s video of a recent performance at the best bar in the world. More songs and videos at their web site.
(If all goes according to plan, you may be hearing excerpts from that Pine Leaf Boys show on a future edition of “All Things Considered.” Cross your fingers.)
3. “Tu Peut Pas M’Arreter de Rêver (You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming)” by The Lost Bayou Ramblers. From the album Pilette Breakdown (2003).
As mentioned above, one strain of contemporary Cajun music merges it with Bob Wills-style Western swing (with a schmear of gypsy jazz). Who knows who came up with it first; the Red Stick Ramblers were where I first heard it, but the Lost Bayou Ramblers have been at it for a while too. The focus is on reviving old pre-World War II songs, when Cajun music emphasized the fiddle. With its shuffle-brush drums and jaunty bass, “Tu Peut Pas M’Arreter de Rêver” could be a Django Reinhardt outtake.
Like Bob Wills — who played under the name the Light Crust Doughboys because a flour company sponsored them — the LBR also plays (in slightly amended form) as the Mello Joy Boys. (Mello Joy is the ur Cajun coffee, recently revived.) Their theme song is here.