Zachary Richard, “Gombo” (RZ Records)

zachary richardA masterful storyteller, Zachary Richard paints a picture every bit as textured, vibrant and full of emotion as any Van Gogh masterpiece. And speaking of masterpieces, Richard is building a catalog of recordings that is truly an everlasting tribute to our heritage, a heritage that he is fiercely protective of. Regardless of whether you understand Richard when he sings in French, you cannot help but feel the storyline of Richard’s songs as they unfold. Love, longing, desperation and joy hit you so hard and in such a meaningful way that you realize that music is indeed the universal language.

Gombo kicks off with “Zydeco Jump,” a reworking of the song originally released on Snake Bite Love. This version, which benefits from the production work of David Torkanowsky, features tasteful slide guitar paired with a driving accordion that lets you know that Richard is back with a vengeance. “La Ballade d’Emile Benoit” immediately draws the listener in with a deep groove as Richard pays tribute to the Newfoundland fiddler. The stories continue in French as Richard laments the sinking of the Irving Whale in 1970 off Prince Edward Island. With “Jena Blues,” Richard returns the story to Louisiana where he moves from environmental disaster to the inequities of mankind. That theme is further developed as Richard goes back in time to regale us with a love story as old as time itself, this time between a Creole maid and an Indian brave. “Jena Blues” and “Manchac” both show that Richard makes no qualms about addressing the less savory sides of the state he loves so deeply, and this gives a credibility to his writing that perfectly complements the songs about the good times the state is so well known for. “Catherine, Catherine” is the first of two duets, this one co-written by and featuring Robert Charlebois. “Catherine, Catherine”, fits nicely between “Jena Blues” and “Manchac” as it allows for a respite before stirring the roux for the darker, more complex flavors of social marginalization contained in “La Ballade De L’Exclus” and the fragility of love and life explored in “Au Bal Du Bataclan.” “Dans Les Grands Chemins” and “Pop the Gator” bring us back to Louisiana as Richard honors John Delafose on the former and gives us advice on what to do with a 20-foot alligator on the latter. Gombo closes out with five songs about love. “It Might Be Love”, “Sweet Little Darling Of Mine” and “Somebody Calling” are each sung in English and explore various aspects of love with each song drenched in the imagery that we have come to expect from Zachary Richard. Richard returns to singing in French for “La Saskatchewan” and “Fais Briller Ta Lumiere,” a gorgeous paean extolling the virtues of unconditional love and everlasting hope that finds him paired with Angélique Kidjo.

Like the title suggests, Gombo features all of the ingredients that we have come to expect from Zachary Richard. As usual, Richard has surrounded himself with an excellent cast of musicians, including Roddie Romero, Shane Theriot, Rick Haworth, Harry Hardin, Helen Gillet, and Francis Covan. Thankfully, even after 45 years and the release of 21 studio albums, Zachary Richard shows no signs of slowing down; and we are all the better for it. Bon appétit!