New releases are at the top of the column this month, because there are so many of them and they’re so good.
First, great news for lovers of old-time Cajun accordion music: You Can’t Go Wrong…If You Play It Right! is the name of the new release by 89-year-old Octa Clark, produced by grandson Glen Clark on his own Field Span Music label. Mr. Octa is joined by the Mamou Playboys’ Steve Riley and Dave Greely (Greely’s fiddle is especially fine here), as well as Rick Michot and Christine Balfa. Lively two-steps like “Cajun Hot Shoes” and “Cajun Exercise” show off Clark’s unique, syncopated accordion, while numbers like “Black Top Blues” demonstrate that high-octane Octa, like his contemporary Nathan Abshire, has always played to the edges of the Cajun style. Clark classics such as “Back O’ Town Two-Step” are also featured, and the album is recommended for its live-in-the-studio sound. You can find You Can’t Go Wrong… at Mulate’s or directly from Glen Clark at (318) 989-1401. CDs should also be hitting stores this month.
Fans of the unvarnished sound of the former McCauley, Reed and Vidrine will be happy to hear that Randy Vidrine and Mitchell Reed have now teamed with accordionist Philip Allemond to form Tasso. As in their previous band, the members of Tasso perform exclusively in French, and find the meat of their material in the Cajun repertoire of the 1920s and ’30s. Tasso’s first release is called The Old Timey Way (Swallow) and features Allemond-penned originals along with songs originally recorded by Lawrence Walker, Adam Hebert and Joe and Cleoma Falcon.
Here’s a Louisiana music trivia question: What album features both Dewey Balfa and New Orleans’ own Phil DeGruy? It’s John Du Bois’ Dans Le Crewe Du Bois (Chaud Dog Jean Records), now available on CD. Du Bois, the “Cajun Maurice Chevalier” (really), is definitely a one-of-a-kind performer who combines the French music of his grandparents with the grand gestures of his days in musical theatre. Du Bois is preparing a new album for release later this summer, which will feature 19th-Century ballads.
The title track to Beausoleil’s La Danse de la Vie on Rhino sets a joyous mood for this new album by one of the Louisiana’s most popular bands. Among the album’s highlights: “Dans Le Grand Brouillard” for its quirky rhythmic hooks always popular with dancers, “R.D. Special” for the sultry Michael Doucet vocals and the sheer sing-a-long fun of “Quelle Belle Vie.” In all, it’s one of the most rewarding Beausoleil packages in recent memory.
Lanor Records has reissued a compilation of Ace sides by Shirley Bergeron called French Rocking Boogie. Bergeron is a skilled songwriter and inspired singer, and this collection should help bring his music to points outside Southwest Louisiana.
Also on Lanor is Zydeco Fever, an album of originals by Joe Walker. And one of the best contemporary Southwest Louisiana-spiced singles can be found on Sammy Kershaw’s country album, Haunted Heart (PolyGram): a sensitive cover of Jimmy Newman’s swamp-pop classic, “Cry, Cry Darlin’.”
But if your ears are aching for live Cajun music, you’ll want to road trip down I-10 for the 22nd Annual Mamou Cajun Music Festival, held Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5. There’s a continual dance under a big top tent, featuring Marc and Ann Savoy, Nonc Allie and the Basile Cajun Band, and more. And on Friday night there’ll be a Potato Dance contest at 9 p.m. (the smoothest dancers are the ones who can hold a potato between their foreheads for an entire two-step). On Saturday there are a series of contests not to be missed, including boudin eating and men’s and women’s competitions in arm wrestling, beer drinking, nail driving and passé partout—sawing. There’s also a greased pole climbing contest, which seems to be open to both genders. Of course, the Fred’s Lounge radio program will be broadcast live Saturday morning on KVPI. It all starts 6:30 p.m. Friday night and runs through Saturday evening.
Finally, for those who want to suffer their early lessons in Cajun dancing in the privacy of their own living rooms, Ormonde Plater and Cynthia and Rand Speyrer have come out with a book of step-by-step instructions called Cajun Dancing (Pelican). There’s a nice introductory essay about dance traditions, a good guide to dance halls and clubs, and about a zillion photographs of the spinning Speyrers demonstrating everything from the “Reverse Pretzel” to the “Crawfish.”
See you at the nail driving contest, stage right.