Though the Cajun Strangers hail from Madison Wisconsin, the group is hardly a stranger to Cajun music, with two Cajun French Music Association Prix DeHors de Nous awards under its belt.
Rest assured, the sextet’s latest doesn’t lack authenticity either with the quality accordion-fiddle interplay of Tom Nickel and Brian O’Donnell. The rest of the band, which includes Siegal-Schwall Band guitarist Jim Schwall (bass) and Lost Bayou Ramblers’ drummer/OffBeat contributor Chris Courville, makes it happen as well with various contributions.
While the group covers tunes from Lawrence Walker, Iry LeJeune and Belton Richard well, what’s amazing is its depth and versatility. The zesty “Une piastre ici” is unusual since the ’30s string-band era is often overlooked by outside-Louisiana Cajun groups.
Similarly, the hypnotic “Fiddlesticks de Varise” reveals an advanced understanding of Cajun fiddling. O’Donnell bows across the higher strings while Colin Bazsali beats the lower ones with chopsticks for a rhythmic harmonic effect without any disruptive collisions.
On some tracks Nickel plays a honky-tonk piano while Scott Mullarky adds zip to the arrangements with his quick-stinging lap steel and occasional slides that stretch to the clouds.
Along the way, the group injects fragments of its collective personality, such as on Nickel’s “Amiral Rouge,” an infectious composition that, conceivably, would be a fine addition to the repertoire. Another Nickel original, “Elizabeth,” features a densely layered, fiddle-centric arrangement with the centerpiece being a pristine, finger-picked guitar solo.
While Cajun music may be hit or miss outside of Louisiana, it’s quite safe in Madison.