Shadows-on-the-Teche is, arguably, David Greely’s most unusual recording yet in a storied career of eclectic solo projects and decades with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (owners of New Iberia’s Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation), the composer/fiddler and visual artist Lynda Frese were given a year to produce this album of thoughtful compositions and art. Luckily, family letters and other artifacts not destroyed in the Civil War (as on other plantations) allowed them to ascertain what 150 years of Teche life was like.
Several compositions are in a similar vein to “Ashokan Farewell” and “Lover’s Waltz.” On their own merit, these gorgeous melodies etch themselves in your brain for days. “Bunk’s Tune” is one such example, a multi-layered homage to legendary trumpeter Bunk Johnson, who gardened and practiced his horn on the grounds.
Many compositions evoke imagery of nineteenth-century society balls where well-heeled revelers danced to waltzes and mazurkas played by a fiddle-centric ensemble. Some songs, like “Charlotte,” were inspired by actual Teche personnel, but Greely opted not to sing about any since he felt he couldn’t adequately represent the enslaved. The breathtaking “Frances Magill” is the most haunting tune, based on a tale of a woman who tragically perished at sea. Similar to “Bunk’s,” “Clemmie’s Tune” has its own infectious swing sensibility. Former Mamou Playboys bandmate Sam Broussard artfully accompanies Greely on acoustic guitar, and on bass on one track. A stunning discourse and a crowning triumph.