The Savoy Family Band, Turn Loose But Don’t Let Go (Arhoolie)

By now, it’s safe to say that any recording with “Savoy” emblazoned on it is probably something of quality with smart song selection, superb playing and is well thought out conceptually. But that doesn’t disclose anything new to those who are even remotely familiar with Cajun music. Plenty of other under-the-floorboard factors make the Savoy Family Band’s latest compelling, if not an early contender for one of the best of the year.

For starters, the Savoy Family Band, Marc (accordion), wife Ann (guitar), sons, Joel (fiddle/guitar) and Wilson (piano/fiddle), is a collective of four distinct personalities that all bring something different to the fold. As one of the genre’s premier accordionists, Marc’s impeccable technique is best manifested on dancehall instrumentals “Rockin’ Chair Two Step” and the driving “Crowley Two Step.” Besides dead-on, rhythmic barre chords, Ann’s quest for beautiful melodies and touching lyricism is prevalent on several love-and-loneliness selections from Belton Richard, Adam Hebert and Delma Lachney. Additionally, she recalls the ghost of Cleoma Breaux on the bluesy, wailing “I Feel Like a Poor Orphan Girl” that has an added effect of a surreal, background drone. Joel grooves on melodic fiddle tunes where he can stretch out, while Wilson is probably the first to bring a piano into the music as an echo of the accordion’s intricate lines rather than as the rhythm instrument it was in its western swing heyday.

As a result, the proceedings are exhilarating, haunting and represent their most diverse project yet. Each of the personalities has enough space to make individual, artistic statements that are unencumbered by the others. Sometimes that statement won’t come as a total surprise, such as Wilson’s wild man ivory bombing on “Two Step De Prairie Soileau.” Others undoubtedly will, like the Dennis McGee fiddle tunes that feature the soulful blending of Joel and Wilson, who’s come into his own as a fiddler. Yet, the crown jewel of all is the Ray Charles-inspired rendition of “You Don’t Know Me” that’s sung in French. Here, Joel’s warm guitar support and Wilson’s emotive, rolling chords and soft crooning make for a torchy jazz ballad that challenges every eye around to remain dry.