It’s always intriguing to see where Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys will evolve to next. Over the course of a storied 23-year career, the pendulum has repeatedly swung between traditional and progressive and back again. Now, with the group’s first studio disc in five years, this CC Adcock-produced affair is adventurous, but much more cohesive than Adcock’s previous co-produced/produced efforts Bayou Ruler and Happy Town.
Diversity and surprises are key here, most notably with “Chatterbox,” a dusty, groove-bound Quintron song featuring Mr. Pussycat hammering the keys. Trailing close behind is the funky Caribbean “C’est l’Heure Pour Changer” that’s replete with guest Jon Cleary’s Hammond B3 squelchings and female backup singers sounding like a village chorus. The glowing rendition of French chanteuse Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” will likely catch many off guard. Riley not only overcomes an iconic gender issue but also nails its unapologetic, carefree sentiment over a fat bottom end and glistening string section.
Sonically, the multifaceted Playboys roam all over the map. On “C’est Ennuyant,” Sam Broussard couples slide guitar harmonics with the Clavinet-sounding stylophone (a mini stylus-operated synthesizer) for a despairing, haunting effect. Broussard’s “Pierre” initially resembles a juré but evolves into a near-tribal séance.
Yet, no matter which mode the Playboys elect to work in, the group still crafts smart songs with infectious melodies, like the bouncy title song that laments the BP gulf catastrophe and its devastating destruction. Also interesting are the occasional bilingual lyrics where French is infused with English (and vice versa) depending on which language certain phrases sound better in. Deep stuff, and it’s reassuring to know that after 23 years growth still happens.