Grand Ole Opry star and Mamou native Jimmy C. Newman (1927–2014) enjoyed a fruitful, eight-decade country music career that incorporated his Cajun identity into his music. This heartfelt tribute is especially meaningful since Joel Savoy, Kelli Jones, Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms all had a personal connection with the Alligator Man. In 2012, Klauder and Willms recorded his “You Didn’t Have to Go” (also heard here) and a year later, Klauder, Willms, Savoy, Jones and Newman’s upright bass-playing son Gary all had the thrill of backing Newman on a short run of sold-out concerts.
Savoy’s crack studio band nails the essence of early ’50s country music: celestial fiddles, clip-cloppy rhythms and steel guitar loaded with quick pull-offs and glistening chiming notes. There are terrific electric/steel guitar fill-ins behind vocalists Willms, Jones, Klauder and Savoy, whose contrasting styles help keep the proceedings fresh. Willms has a dreamy delivery; Jones is sassy and twangy while Klauder croons with a dry ache. Savoy, singing more here than on any of his previous recordings, has come into his own as a vocalist (“Alligator Man”).
Most of this material stems from Newman’s early career on Crowley record man J.D. Miller’s Feature label and the nationally known Dot Records. “Cry Cry Darlin’,” the album’s lush centerpiece, is given breathtaking treatment by Willms and Jones. Jones’ performance on “Blue Darlin’” is similarly stunning. Interestingly, Newman’s first recording, the zippity “The H. Brown Shuffle,” a 1950 radio jingle of a local auto parts company, is represented here. A strong set of tracks that should bring Newman’s overlooked legacy to new audiences.