It happened on Mardi Gras Day 2018. That’s when Michael Doucet, singer and fiddler in the Grammy-winning Cajun band BeauSoleil, met New Orleans singer-guitarist Sarah Quintana.
Living in the French Quarter at the time, Doucet was roaming through the Carnival madness with a large group including his guitarist brother, David. “People just got together and walked,” he remembered. “I didn’t know who they were because everybody was masked. It was a crazy, magic day. Things happened.”
When the Doucet brothers’ group stopped outside a bar, Quintana recognized them. She’d already been hoping to work with Michael Doucet and, of course, knew New Orleans resident David Doucet because of his finger-style guitar prowess and Monday night gigs at the Columns Hotel. Despite Michael Doucet’s mask, Quintana said, “I recognized his fluffy white hair.”
Initially reluctant to talk shop, Doucet eventually spoke about music with Quintana. She promised to send an example of her original music to him. He liked what he heard.
“It was really good,” Doucet said. “So, I said, ‘Okay, let’s get together.’ I lived in New Orleans in the Quarter then, so I was right there.” Later at Quintana’s house, “the first tune we played clicked,” Doucet said. “What I was looking for, what she was looking for. We played our first gig weeks later.”
As it happened, BeauSoleil’s recording contract with the Nashville-based Compass Records required a solo album from Doucet. The label asked him to record the solo project in Music City with Nashville session musicians. That was a bridge too far. “I said, ‘Man, as far as I’m concerned, the best musicians live in southwest Louisiana.’”
In May 2018, Doucet and Quintana entered the studio with the band that came to be called Lâcher Prise, translation “Let Go.” They recorded the self-named album, Lâcher Prise, at Dockside Studios, near Doucet’s home in Lafayette. “It’s my neighborhood studio, right down the road,” he said. The band premiered its sound on OffBeat.com.
Sessions for Lâcher Prise, to be released February 14, “were magic,” Doucet said. The multi-generational band recorded the album in just two-and-a-half days. The album and band feature Quintana, guitarist Chad Viator, bassist Chris French and drummer Jim Kolacek. On February 15, Michael Doucet avec Lâcher Prise will play a Carnival season-timed album-release show at Chickie Wah Wah.
The Lâcher Prise album includes Doucet’s original, not necessarily Cajun songs; a bluesy take on Louisiana songwriting great Bobby Charles’ “He’s Got All the Whiskey;” a raucous one-take version of zydeco pioneer Boozoo Chavis’ “Lulu Lulu Don’t You Go to Bingo”; and Doucet’s instrumental collaboration with the Turtle Island String Quartet, “Cajun Gypsy.”
“It’s hard to make new songs feel like they’ve been on the road forever,” Doucet said. “But with this group, that’s easy because they’re so good. And they’re younger than me, which gives it a different perspective. We all respect each other. I’m just glad they like my music. That surprises me the most—that they want to work on it.”
Actually, Quintana is thrilled about working with Doucet. “Michael has been the most wonderful friend, teacher and bandmate,” she said. “And my playing has changed completely since I met him. Working with Michael and these guys has been the biggest gift.”
Doucet’s and Quintana’s Mardi Gras Day-sparked collaboration is mutually rewarding. “Sarah’s been a great sport, promoting this music, my music, with this group,” he said. “It’s fun to stretch out, to not only sing in French but in English, too.”
Following 45 years with BeauSoleil, Lâcher Prise manifests what Doucet thinks he should be doing at this point in his long career. Yeah, I’m a Cajun and I play Cajun music, but that’s not all I do,” he said. “This new thing is a great framework for me to show where I’m at and where I’m going. It’s creative, it’s expansive, it’s fulfilling–and I can let go.”
Quintana finds expanded possibilities in Lâcher Prise, too. “When we’re in a jam,” she said, “Michael just looks at me, lifts an eyebrow and says, ‘You want to take a ride?’ I get to solo on every song. But for so long, I just wanted to do what was best for whatever band I was in. That sometimes meant just singing or playing rhythm. Michael knows that I want to solo, too, and have fun. Michael is a bit of a feminist because he supports my ideas. He gives me that position of power and lets me step up on the guitar as a leader. It’s super-exciting.”
While Doucet pursues new directions with Lâcher Prise, he continues to work with BeauSoleil, the world’s best-known Cajun band. “It’s fun because there’s only one group like us,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s as good as the Miles Davis Quartet, but we know each other so well that whatever we do sounds like us.” O
Michael Doucet avec Lâcher Prise will perform February 15 at Chickie Wah Wah in New Orleans.