Ever since Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque staged their faux zydeco battle in 1994, over-the-top self-promotion hype has become the norm, which adds to the spirit of zydeco. J.J. Caillier’s eighth album follows suit by opening with a radio skit where DJ Kody James gives away tickets to an upcoming Caillier show to excited female callers. The takeaway, of course, is Caillier is “bad as he wanna be.” Whether that’s fact or fiction, what’s true about this baker’s dozen/nine originals affair is that he covers the entire z-spectrum, from old school to ’90s nouveau to today’s modern zydeco. The tribute to Buckwheat Zydeco, “Back at the Shack,” is the disc’s most rip-snorting track but foot-stomper “Caillier Gonna Make You Dance” and bump-and-grinders “Party Train” and the horse-neighing “Trailride Boogie 2017” aren’t far behind.
As good as Caillier is at pumping out dance-enticing zydeco, he’s also adept at crafting high-caliber contemporary tracks like “Shake That Thang” and the swirling, poignant “I Remember” that are rich in detail. Though “Gotcha Knockin” is a swing out favorite, it’s really more in the R&B sphere of Johnnie Taylor. Covering Latimore’s big hit “Let’s Straighten It Out” is also a smart move since it connects with the southern soul contingent. Bad as he wants to be? Maybe. But Caillier’s certainly as versatile as he wants to be.