Buckwheat Zydeco, Lay Your Burden Down (Alligator)

It seems like only yesterday when Buckwheat Zydeco commemorated his 20th anniversary with the career retrospective The Buckwheat Zydeco Story. A blink of a decade later, 2009 marks Stanley Dural, Jr.’s 30th anniversary as Buckwheat Zydeco, which his Alligator Records debut commemorates with plenty of celebrity guests. The Steve Berlin-produced affair is Buck’s most adventurous disc yet, starting with “When the Levee Breaks.” He jams on keys here as well as on several other tracks, not always pumping his piano-note accordion as some might expect. On the tracks that do feature his Hyundai-sized contraption, it’s not always the most prominent voice (“The Wrong Side”).

With selections from JJ Grey & Mofro, Bruce Springsteen and Captain Beefheart (the mild-by-his-standards “Too Much Time”), these proceedings represent what Buck could conceivably sound like if he still led his ’70s funk-soul-rock aggregation, Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers. Many tracks feature a peppering of punchy horns added to the predominantly soul/R&B/calypso arrangements; “Don’t Leave Me” finds Trombone Shorty surfing a long wave solo that crests with some jaw-dropping embouchure technique.

Very little of this is really straight-up, accordion-fueled zydeco but Buck’s Mardi Gras-themed “Throw Me Something Mister” is hands down a familiar-sounding party rave-up. Instead, this album showcases how Buck can still interpret contemporary material and slice a fat groove, as evidenced by the funky ska rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” and Govt. Mule’s Warren Haynes’ slow-grinding, hypnotic title track. Zydeco, you see, is only one of the things that the artist formerly known as Stanley Dural, Jr. does so well.