“Voyageurs” mean travelers, something which Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys has done on many levels over the course of 14 albums and 27 years in existence. Accordingly, several songs embrace a traveling theme, whether it’s departing for Texas, a Mardi Gras run, or searching for a lost love. The rock-ish original “Au Revoir Grand Mamou” is novel since it’s about leaving Riley’s hometown of Mamou, not going there, as often heard in other songs.
Newest member/fiddler Kevin Wimmer brings a Creole influence with rockin’ renditions of “Bernadette” and “Madame Faillelle,” both of which jam into the beyond. And thereupon is one such Mamou Playboys trademark, locking in something that’s culturally core and expanding upon it with crafty innovation. On the Riley-Wimmer-Kelli Jones-Savoy’s co-written “Plus creux,” the rhythm section of bassist Brazos Huval and drummer Kevin Dugas churn out a great offsetting, funky rhythm. Credit guitarist Sam Broussard for innovation as well: unique, unobtrusive killer riffs that add tone and texture to the arrangement on hand.
Voyageurs’ biggest triumph comes with Wimmer’s two knuckle-bustin’ instrumentals that exceeded Riley’s accordion’s technical limits since all the sharps and flats couldn’t be played. To rectify that, Riley obtained a custom-made chromatic accordion from France where every note could be played. “Malcolm’s Reel” finds Wimmer and Riley playing an intricate melody at warp speed while “Bottle It Up” is a throttling cruise through the country.
As much as there’s innovation, there’s also a salute to tradition with the Dennis McGee fiddle tunes and “La Danse de Mardi Gras.” Yet, the latter is also innovative. The cloppy horse hoof sound effects from Nathan Abshire’s legendary recording are ingeniously sampled and slowed down a bit for the intro and outro.
Analysis aside, most listeners will simply marvel at how well the Mamou Playboys play together, and the resultant grooves and aesthetics created. It’s a deep listen with highlights too numerous to mention. “Brasse donc, le couche-couche,” another highlight, is a beautiful, sentimental waltz where Riley’s vocals soar over a swelling chorus and leaves the listener with frissons (goose bumps), the ultimate Cajun music high.