Maybe folklorist Barry Ancelet spoke too soon when he scribed in a 1993 festival guide regarding how Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys “constantly push the edge, raising the level of musicianship to hair-raising heights.” That was over 12 years ago, but little could Ancelet foresee how his observations would spiral several orders of magnitude from when those prophetic words were etched. Their eighth album, Bon Rêve, was a monumental triumph as another, even higher summit was conquered and homesteaded as their domain. Dominos continues the trend of inwardly mining forgotten treasures while once again raising the bar in the Playboys’ own inimitable style. At the disc’s very epicenter lies the domino concept that symbolizes previous generations influencing succeeding ones, leaning and falling like a series of dominoes. In the middle of this seemingly never-ending stream stands the Playboys’ metaphorical placeholder, which too leans upon and influences those emerging upstarts sprouting after them.
With a tip of the chapeau to those black-square-and-white-dots predecessors are a bluesy, bottom-thudding rendition of Canray Fontenot’s “Coulée Rodair,” a prancing Dennis McGee twin fiddle medley and an “Ardoin Medley” that conceives with “Fais Pas Tout Ca,” slides into “Midland Two-Step” and busts into “Quoi Faire.” Of course, not all their favorite dominos could be honored within a single platter but among those that are a rollicking treatment of DL Menard’s “The Bachelor’s Life” and fiddler Varise Connor’s “Mazurka,” a former instrumental that’s augmented by new lyrics written by David Greely. Yet, the digging doesn’t stop there but burrows deeper with a haunting poem adaptation of “Marie mouri” written by the 19th century slave Pierre, as well as “Les clefs de la prison,” a 1934 Lomax unearthing of ballad singer Elita Hoffpauir that’s sung a cappella in breathtaking three-part harmony.
While the aforementioned is solidly bedrocked in tradition replete with the Playboys’ signature, what’s also noteworthy is the quality of writing (“Pays des étrangers”), arrangements and subtle innovations that’s laced throughout the proceedings. During the exhilarating “Waxia,” (a 1920s Slim Doucet discovery), inventive guitarist Sam Broussard emulates the accordion line with nimble finger picking and percussive muting of strings. The title song finds Riley playing accordion in unison with fiddler Greely, an unusual feat in Cajun music. Clashing, tension-filled chords creatively bookend a tune of drummer Kevin Dugas’ pops, Nolan Dugas, “Wait Until I Finish Crying” while western swing daddy Milton Brown’s “Keep-a-Knockin’” is transformed into a Cajun Hot Club motif with Greely’s arty stylings and Broussard’s jazzy picking. If you haven’t surmised by now, this is hardly your run-of-the-mill dancehall fare or popular Cajun cover tune rerun. Rather, with the added bonus of the Wilson Savoy-filmed DVD segment (in the form of a dual disc), Riley and the Mamou Playboys personify Cajun music’s rightful progression and this time the evolution is televised.