Readers who may have missed the first volume of En Français: Cajun ’n’ Creole Rock ’n’ Roll are in for a real treat this year. According to Louis Michot, bandleader, fiddler and vocalist with the Lost Bayou Ramblers, who originated the concept and served as co-producer on Volume Two, this disk “has a new depth to it. We’ve included a bunch of slower, deeper material, expanded the range of sounds, and added the element of family connections. We’ve also been able to attract a few higher-profile acts, like Geno Delafose, Terrence Simien and BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet.” Given the inherent affinity between zydeco and soul music, you could almost think of Volume Two as En Français: Cajun ’n’ Creole Rock ’n’ Roll, The Soul Sessions.
Equally as impressive as those top-notch headliners are the unexpected knockouts delivered by the less highly renowned ensembles that make this compilation really shine. The Babineaux Sisters — Gracie, 13, on fiddle, accordion and vocals, and Julie, 11, on guitar and vocals — easily stand out at the top of that list. Choosing their own material to cover, they open the CD with a plainly beautiful, intensely rocking version of “All Along the Watchtower” (“Le Tour de Garde”) clearly inspired more by the Hendrix version than Dylan’s original, and made that much more quaintly lovely with lyrics translated by their grandfather in a pre-modern version of Cajun French.
Similarly surprising is the rocking soul delivered by the Berard Family Band, helmed by patriarch Al Berard, fiddler and founder of the highly successful Basin Brothers Band. Here he also shares electric guitar duties with co-producer Todd Mouton. Son-in-law Adrien Huval sits in on accordion and daughter Maegen holds down the basslines, while niece/cousin Callie Smith sets the tempo on drums for a pair of classic hits, The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” (Temps de la Saison”) and the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” (“Tous les Jours et Tous les Nuits”); daughter Laura and niece/cousin Callie deliver powerful vocal performances on each, respectively.
As for the aforementioned headliners, it’s hard to believe that Cajun world-music aficionados BeauSoleil could connect so solidly, and with such great enthusiasm, on both The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” (La Derniere Fois”) and James Brown’s — yes, that James Brown’s — “It Makes Me Crazy” (“Ça Me Rendre Fou”), complete with a stop-time tempo that conjures images of the Godfather of Soul doing one of his patented wheel and spins just before grabbing the microphone. Geno Delafose and his French Rockin’ Boogie Band lend a proud and dignified restraint to The Rolling Stones ballad “Wild Horses” (“Chevaux Farouche”), while Terrence Simien and daughter Marcella deliver a spine-tinglingly beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ “In My Life” (“Dans Ma Vie”).
Given the extraordinary quality of this follow-up, what started as an experimental idea is now showing all the obvious signs of becoming a staple item of the 21st century third-wave Cajun revival calendar.