UPDATED What happens when producer Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers translates rock classics into contemporary Cajun/Creole music? Alchemy, pure alchemy. Not that the originals by the Who, the Doors, Neil Young and more weren’t 14-karat to begin with, but try making something new out of any one of them that still retains a genuine life of its own and still has within it the vibe of a true “classic.” Now, try doing it exclusively in the mostly acoustic sounds of new wave Cajun/Creole French.
En Français: Cajun ’n’ Creole Rock ’n’ Roll accomplishes that feat triumphantly in 14 translations of well-known rock hits that run the pop gamut from pleasing Top 40 rock (Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good,” done as “T’es Pas Bon” by the all-female ensemble Bonsoir, Catin) to bar-band exuberance (“Wooly Bully,” by Ryan Brunet and the Malfecteurs) to heavy metal intensity (Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” translated into “L’Homme en Fer” by Houma indie-rockers Isle Dernière).
On the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ “Ma Génération,” Michot sings the song as if telling a story—completely doing away with Roger Daltrey’s theatrical and now-famous stutter-step approach to the lyrics—while replacing Pete Townsend’s guitar acrobatics with an electronically fortified version of the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ tight ensemble sound.
Especially compelling is a sequence of five tracks book-ended by Ryan Brunet and the Malfacteurs’ rowdy takes on “Wooly Bully” and “L’Argent, Ca Que Je Veux” (“Money, That’s What I Want”) that masterfully weaves its way through “Me Voila” (a remake of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” done plaintively by Feufollet); “Révolution” (the Beatles remake in a sharply cutting version by Cedric Watson); and “Oh, Catin” (the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” done in appropriately intense fashion by Bonsoir, Catin). Neil Young’s “Down by the River” (“Au Long de la Rivière”) is rendered beautifully by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys in a 10-minute version that features angelic background choirs plus lengthy accordion, fiddle, and electric-guitar solos.
The album’s message? Just as older generations of Cajuns had to fight to get French reinstated in Louisiana schools, this generation wants to make sure it stays that way. But En Français also stands on its own as an astonishing musical document, providing a companion volume of sorts to Allons Boire Un Coup, Valcour Records’ 2006 collection of Cajun/Creole drinking songs produced to showcase the then-new generation beginning to achieve critical mass in a cultural revival all their own. En Français convincingly demonstrates the remarkable progress this new generation of Cajun and Creole musicians has made in just five years.
Updated 10/26/11, 3:45 p.m.: The band Isle Dernière was misspelled. The error has been corrected.