The ladies love Bobby Charles. McKee, ex-Evangeline and ex-Mid City, devotes this album entirely to his songs, and Shannon McNally has her own similar project on the way. Maybe Bobby’s become the Louisiana Leonard Cohen, but where with Cohen the women who have taken on his catalog tend to dig for the poetic feminine aspect encased in the author’s robust (if Zen) manliness, McKee goes at the Charles canon with all the daintiness of a starving person let loose on a plate of barbecue. Man or woman. And it’s the absolute right approach for material from the Bard of the Bayous, Guru of the Gulf, Sage of the Swamps. She doesn’t waste any effort searching for subtext in, for example, the opening “I Spent All My Money Lovin’ You” or “See You Later Alligator” (the writer’s teenaged publishing debut from more than five decades ago). The occasional double entendre aside, Charles doesn’t really do subtext, and that’s part of the beauty of his catalog. The only sub that matters here is the underlying growl that marks these performances—blasting saxes, slashing and sliding guitars, burbling organ and piano (McKee leading the way on the latter) and earthy beats (from hubby/co-producer Juan Perez) all keyed to McKee’s naturally lusty vocals.
There are no attempts to evoke the original or familiar versions, be they from Fats (“Walking To New Orleans”), Frogman (“But I Do”) or the expressive author himself (pretty much all of them, at one time or another), though her heartfelt rendition of the title confessional does recall the 1972 Tracy Nelson version—inevitable given their comparable vocal gifts. That’s all trickier than it might seem. Charles’ songs are certainly adaptable, but not always forgiving. Going for novelty on the lighter ones trivializes them. Going for pure sentiment on the ballads turns them to mush. McKee gets that every step of the way. And it’s the latter that provides this album’s closing triumph when McKee switches to accordion for “I Don’t See Me.” Even in that downcast observation, McKee embodies Charles’ plain-spoken wisdom—no self-pity, no subtext. That’s Louisiana Zen.