Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Album Review: BeauSoleil "Bayou Cadillac"

*Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this and other reviews are my own. French song titles do not have accent marks because my keyboard does not have them available.*

I love all of BeauSoleil's albums, but for some reason this CD is one of my absolute favorites. If I were to sum up this album in one word, that word would be fun! Only three of the twelve songs on this album are slow, and the rest are two-steps, traditional zydeco and even a step into the world of Tex-Mex. This album was recorded in 1988 and released in 1989. To my ears, it was a step in a decidedly non-traditional direction and a forerunner of the more rocking, modern sounds that BeauSoleil employs today. This doesn't mean that the band gave up traditional Cajun music. In fact, most of the songs on this collection are from the Louisiana traditions of Cajun, Zydeco, and more.

My history with this album goes back to the year 2000, when I first became interested in BeauSoleil. I had bought two of their albums already, and regularly tried to find out more about their music. I visited and listened to the many sound clips available. When I heard sound clips for this album, specifically "Hey Baby, Quoi Ca Dit?" and "Couchon de Lait," I was captivated by the interesting sounds and knew I had to purchase it. I did just that around my birthday in April, and it immediately became one of my favorite BeauSoleil CDs. It still is, and now I shall review the album's songs:

1) Bon Temps Rouler

According to the liner notes, "Bon Temps Rouler" is a Clarence Garlow song from the 1950s and was the first song to make mention of the word "Zydeco" in reference to black Creole accordion-based music. In BeauSoleil's version, it has a slightly rock and roll sound, combined with a strong Caribbean influence through Billy Ware's bouncing percussion. There is an electric guitar solo, which is quite a departure from the previously all-acoustic BeauSoleil sound. The song is sung (almost) entirely in English, which makes it stand out against the band's French songs. But Jimmy Breaux's awesome accordion keeps things Cajun. Overall, this is a nice, dirty, rocking song that makes a listener do just what the title says: Let the good times roll.

2) Rolling Pin

This is a fun, fast two-step of the type at which BeauSoleil excels so well. Tommy Alesi's drumming keeps things at a breakneck pace. Michael Doucet's wild lyrics tell a story about a man who comes home drunk and gets beat over the head by his wife with, you guessed it, a rolling pin. This song is just excellent for dancing because of the driving beat and spot-on accordion and fiddling to keep things interesting. This song is very typical of the high energy and fun spirit of Bayou Cadillac.

3) Valse Bebe

This is a waltz, and the only waltz on the album. It's not a sad waltz like many Cajun waltzes, but romantic instead. The singing is very tender, with Michael telling his love to waltz with him. The pace of the song is a bit faster than most BeauSoleil waltzes, but the faster pace makes for good dancing. What really stands out is Michael's fiddle right after the chorus. It's gentle and romantic but then becomes very interesting. I can't quite describe what he does, but it's pleasing to the ear. This is a good song for dancing with a loved one, or for thinking about a loved one while listening to the music. It's one of the more romantic BeauSoleil waltzes in their career and I like it quite a bit.

4) Hey Baby, Quoi Ca Dit?

This is a combination of Cajun Music, Tex-Mex, and Polka. It's a fun, bouncing, cross-cultural dance number that shows how Cajun music can be applied to other types of music. The song was written by a Tex-Mex musician friend of BeauSoleil's named Augie Meyers. The lyrics are partly in English, partly in Spanish, and partly in Cajun French. I think this really goes to show the connections between Spanish and French, both of which are Romance languages. It also highlights the easy switching between identities, cultures, and languages that is the trademark of Louisiana and Texas. The accordion is the link between all these different styles, I think. As well as being a culturally interesting song, it's just plain fun to listen to.

5) Couchon de Lait

This is quite the oddity in BeauSoleil's catalog. It's sort of a two-step, but with a really odd rhythm. Billy Ware's funny percussion drives this song and gives it its out-of-the-ordinary quality. The fiddling, along with the percussion, is the highlight of this mostly instrumental song. Michael Doucet takes his instrument and improvises and builds on the basic musical theme of the song. His fiddle playing is always very expressive, no matter what type of music he's playing. Occasionally Michael sings the title of the song, but the rest of it is just the instruments playing. The meaning of the title? "Pig Roast," according to the liner notes.

6) Bayou Cadillac

The title track is one of my favorites. It, too, is percussion-heavy. It's a medly of the Buddy Holly song "Not Fade Away," Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley" and the traditional "Iko Iko." The lyrics to the songs are part French, part English and part mumbo-jumbo depending on what part of the medley is being sung. Tommy Alesi, the drummer, really does a good job here in keeping the steady, urgent beat and making it resonate within you. Jimmy Breaux has rarely been better, in my opinion. Although the Cajun Accordian is a small instrument with a limited note range, it sure does rock in Jimmy's hands. It offers a nice contrast to the fluid sounds of the fiddle. There's a sort of dark groove underneath this song medley, a rock and roll attitude. There's a bit of electric guitar to link these early rock era songs with their original forms. As usual with this album, "Bayou Cadillac" the song is a big departure from the normal Cajun tunes the band plays. It's a rollicking good time and has a swing and swagger that makes it stand out.

7) Flammes D'Enfer

I'm not sure what type of song this would classify as, but I would describe it as a mid-tempo two step. I had heard this song many times on internet radio, and loved it. I was very happy to find that it was included on this album when I purchased it. This is definitely one of the more "Cajun" songs on the album, and it's very good. The fiddling, accordion, etc. is not drastically different or outstanding. It's as good as BeauSoleil normally plays. That's not to say it's bad, it's just more of a typical BeauSoleil song. What does stand out is the vocals. Michael's lead singing is awesome as usual, but the highlight is the chorus when Michael, David and (as far as I can tell) Al Tharp sing in harmony. It works well, especially with the louder, higher singing contrasting with the quieter voices. Lyrically, it's about love, especially the "prison of love." Michael implores his loved one to save him from the song's title, the "flames of hell."

8) Bunk's Blues

This is another of the slower songs on Bayou Cadillac, but it's very good too. It has a bit of a sadder theme, being a blues song, and the music reflects this. Michael's fiddling here is strong and extraordinary. He really lets his fiddle sing and cry. It's amazing how he can manipulate the sound of the fiddle to reflect so many emotions. I'd say this is his best fiddling performance on the whole album, and perhaps in his whole recording career. As always, his vocals also convey the emotions of the song well. Michael has an expressive and wide-ranging vocal style, which I believe is quite common in Cajun singing. In any case, he knows how to sing a blues song and he does so very well here. This may not be a song for dancing, but it is still good listening material.

9) Le Sud de la Louisiane

This is a light, bouncy song about the beauty of Louisiana. It's sort of a two-step, but it also seems like a poppy, tin pan alley type of song. It goes along at a semi-fast pace with excellent guitar by David Doucet (who also sings the song), and fast fiddling and accordion playing as usual. There's also a bit of steel guitar thrown in for fun. Overall, this is a happy, fun song just like many of the other songs on the album. It sounds a bit similar to "Rolling Pin" musically. The lyrics are also great. The song is about the Acadians who came to Louisiana and found their paradise. Unlike "Recherchie d'Acadie" on Cajunization, this is an upbeat song focusing on all the good things the Acadians found in their new homeland. This is just an overall great song and it puts you in a happy mood.

10) Baby, Please Don't Go

This is a very popular blues song that has been covered by many artists, including Aerosmith. BeauSoleil plays it a bit slower and bluesier in contrast to many of the more popular versions of the song. Musically, the highlight is the soulful accordion of Jimmy Breaux. The rest of the instruments are also excellent, as one can expect from the band members. This song shows off the blues side of BeauSoleil quite well, and allows for a nice break before the last two songs of this energetic album.

11) Macaque Sur Mon Dos

It means "Monkey On My Back" and it is another bouncy, fun song sung by David. The liner notes say that it was recorded in the string band era of Cajun music in the 1930s, and it sounds like it was. The highlights of the song are the expressive and danceable fiddle playing and the gentle guitar playing by David. This song is similar in feel to "Rolling Pin" and "Le Sud de la Louisiane," but the lyrics tell a darker tale about the man's woman leaving him and cheating with someone else. David's singing is a bit lighter and jovial than the subject matter would suggest, though. Such is the case with many Cajun songs: singing a tale of lost love and sadness to the beat of a two-step dance.

12) Island Zydeco

Not a Zydeco song like Clifton Chenier would make, but more of a salute to the Caribbean roots of the French Creole music from which Zydeco came. The beat is steady, helped along by the percussion and the twanging of Al Tharp's banjo. The fiddle and accordion team up well, and keep a steady rhythm that suggests Caribbean sounds instead of the fluid sway of French-based sounds. There is a nice break in the middle of the song with some island congas and shakers to remind us of the title, ISLAND Zydeco. It's a short, punchy song to end a short, punchy, joyous, energy-filled album full of Cajun and rock sounds galore.

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