Forest Huval’s eponymously titled debut has strong ties to Al Berard, one of his influential Cajun music mentors. All of the tunes heard here are associated with the late fiddler and were played informally by Berard and Huval, including Berard’s original “Atakapas Trail,” which serves as a haunting lead-off track. Though Huval is joined by members of Berard’s Basin Brothers, drummer Keith Blanchard, bassist/guitarist Dwayne Brasseaux (also a mentor) and fiddler Kyle Hebert, it’s not a Berard/Basin Brothers tribute. Instead, Huval does plenty to incorporate his own personality into the proceedings. Several songs considered to be fiddle tunes (“McGee One-Step,” “Chez Seychelles”) were adapted by Huval to be led on accordion. Additionally, he gravitates toward songs containing minor chords or incorporates them into the arrangements for a slight sonic diversity.
Though Huval has a pleasant, round singing voice and really lights it up on “Reno Waltz,” he prefers instrumentals, seven total, that showcase his precise, peppery playing. And speaking of showcase, Hebert’s lyrical fiddling is nothing less than first rate—amazing since he considers the bass to be his primary instrument.
The broad assortment of tunes ranges from tried-and-true standards to more contemporary compositions by Berard, Michael Doucet, Jason Frey and Travis Matte, indicating that Huval is stylistically well-versed and not stuck in any particular era. Simpler than that, he plays what he likes and from a listening standpoint, it’s not hard to like what he does.