Keith Frank, Follow the Leader / Boot Up (Soulwood Records)

Keith Frank, Follow the Leader / Boot Up (Soulwood Records)

Similar to 2007s Undisputed—a double disc set with each disc featuring its own concept—Follow the Leader and Boot Up are also two distinct concept discs sold together as a set or separately depending on the demographic of the gig at hand.

For longtime zydeco zealots, Boot Up is a great place to start, since it traces Frank’s roots evolution to its current day manifestation that’s prevalent on the more contemporary Follow the Leader. “Lessons from the Master Boozoo Chavis,” a live segment from Boozoo urging the younger generation to keep zydeco alive, frames the quintessential concept of Boot Up: being rooted in your music and culture. Though not sequenced as such, “On the Bandstand” is the next logical stop since it shows where the auspicious upstart was artistically in 1991 with a simplistic song structure that seems so primitive now. A few tracks, like “Johnny Can’t Dance,” underscore Frank’s traditional side, but even they have their own signature twists and turns. The Creole Frenchsung “Adam 3-Step” features the accordionist playing quick, infectious syncopated riffs over a tight, interlocking rhythm section.

Yet Boot Up is not solely an allegiance to tradition—it has plenty of progressive moments. The instrumental title track is one such example. Frank trading licks with guitarist Lucien Hayes sounds something like the Meters jamming on zydeco back in the day. Whether he’s playing in the tradition or using contemporary urban influences, Frank never loses sight of who he is and where he came from. On “Still Zydeco For Me,” he drops a fairly heady message—“if you take away the zydeco, it’s our culture that pays the cost”—referring to those who infuse their music so heavily with outside influences that the zydeco core becomes practically invisible.

Follow The Leader juxtaposes breezy, romantically happier R&B-slanted songs with rocking appearances from guest rappers Level and DCRAVE. Some songs are tongue-in-cheek fun, like “We Gonna Hold It Down” where Frank draws ridiculous parallels between himself and boxer Muhammad Ali.

Two songs, an adaptation of the Meters’ “Fire on the Bayou” and “That’s Why They Call Him the Boss,” are on both discs since they fit within the concept of each. The latter finds Frank trading rollicking accordion rides with Buckwheat Zydeco while imparting the discs’ most hard-hitting message: “I like Buckwheat Zydeco and the Dopsies too / If we’re gonna crown a king / they would get it long before you” and “So you can’t run this / Because you’re not from this.”

Regardless of where you drop the needle on either platter, the well-oiled Frank groove never falters. Combined with his cultural dogma stance, his music continues to strengthen with time.

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