Various Artists, Travailler, C’est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent (Swallow Records)

About the time you’d think all of the discoveries in Cajun music had been made, along comes obscure balladeer Caesar Vincent (1882–1970) with his encyclopedic repertoire of ancient French songs. He’s credited for the first known recording of “Travailler, C’est Trop Dur” (recorded in 1957 by Dr. Harry Oster) which has become iconic in the Francophone world. Awhile back, ULL Professor Emeritus Barry Ancelet pondered what else Vincent recorded and discovered this a cappella treasure trove in his university’s archives.

On this two-disc tribute, 20 of Vincent’s songs spring to life with astounding new interpretations done by approximately 60 Acadiana musicians. A few, like those by fiddler David Greely and guitar flat-picker David Doucet, are imaginably what Vincent would have sounded like if accompanied by an instrumentalist. Though contributions by Steve Riley, the Lafayette Rhythm Devils and Bonsoir, Catin are accordion-fiddle driven, stylistically, other interpretations vary considerably. Anna Laura Edmiston sings a 25-verse murder ballad, “Les anneaux de Marianson,” in perfect pitch over a surreal ambience. Feufollet, Megan Brown and Kelli Jones reimagine Vincent as an indie-pop rocker with a penchant for tuneful melodies. “Avec Sa Mary Jane et du coton du nord” finds Roddie Romero, Zachary Richard, Wayne Toups and Ancelet riding a cool funky groove propelled by bassist Lee Allen Zeno and drummer Curley Taylor.

Sam Broussard’s rendition of “Là bas oh dans ces bois” is simply brilliant. Broussard ingeniously overdubbed his jaw-dropping guitar wizardry, percussion and harmony vocals to accompany Vincent’s singing.

When it came time to record “Travailler, C’est Trop Dur,” Richard proposed using Vincent’s original field recording instead of creating yet another new version. “Why don’t we let the man have his own song back?” he asked, thus bringing the decades-long, worldwide odyssey back to the man who inspired it all.