There’s some deep irony in the title. Anyone up on the Cajun-Creole music scene of Southwest Louisiana knows that these sounds, recorded between 1929 and 1934, are anything but gone, long or otherwise.
This is the bedrock material of those interwoven woven cultures and collected together in one place for the first time—34 songs on two CDs purporting to encompass every known recording session by the petit Creole accordion player and singer, mostly in his prophetic duo with Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee—it’s the Acadiana Bible.
Kids at the Blackpot Festival are still playing these tunes, pretty much the way they’re played here, without sounding like preservationists. And these recordings, save for the only slightly scratchy audio patina and a singing style evolved in a pre-microphone era, don’t sound anachronistic even as they capture that moment when the streams of French, African, a touch of German and emergent bits of country and blues sensibilities got all alchemic before fissioning off into the array of Cajun and zydeco variations we know today.
There’s even something Biblical to the mythic quality that surrounds accounts of his life and death, tales a la Buddy Bolden and Robert Johnson. One story has him beaten (allegedly at the hands of two men angered to see a white woman lend Ardoin her handkerchief at a dance hall) and left him greatly impaired both physically and mentally. Another version says the men ran him over with a car. Still another says he was poisoned by a jealous musician. In any case, he was committed to an asylum in Pineville and died (maybe there, maybe elsewhere, as no records exist) in 1941 at age 43.
It’s hard to say what stands out more in his music, his singing or playing. The former is his real audio signature, a pleading tone, almost the edge of a cry that emerges from the accordion-fiddle flurry and grips the ears right from the first track of this collection, the waltz “Madame Atchen.” Torn between anguish, threat, plea and regret he queries his “chere ‘tite femme” in Creole French: “I’m going away, oh little woman / But what did you do with your little heart?” Confused, desperate, ultimately defeated—it’s heartbreaking whether you understand the words or not. (One deficiency of this set is a lack of lyrics and translations, as well as any detailed song or recording session information. All that can be found on Arhoolie Records’ still-available 1995 Ardoin anthology I’m Never Coming Back, with 26 of these tracks in chronological order.)
Or take “Amadie Two-Step” (seems there is flexibility on the spelling of his name). On the surface it’s a snappy dance of misogynistic pique, but it’s steeped in doubt and self-recrimination. The slashes of static that even reissue producer Christopher King’s fine mastering from the original 78 couldn’t smooth only add to the deep crimson emotion.
And it’s not just the Bible. It’s also the Acadiana Atlas. You could plot a boudin tour from these titles. “Blues de Basile,” “Two Step de Eunice,” “Valse de Opelousas,” the “Blues de Crowley” with it’s alternately droning and chattering accordion—landmarks all, more than mere stops on a journey or perfunctory tributes to points on his gigging circuit, but homages to home. And maybe that’s why this still sounds vital, why each of these remains a standard at the heart of the repertoire some eight decades on. It’s still about place, even if it’s transcended time.