Various Artists

Louisiana Cajun French Music, Vol. 2: Southwest Prairies, 1964-1967

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Beyond a doubt one of the best issues in this label's catalog, this dandy album provides the listener with the variety that can be found in a compilation, but also satisfies the taste for each artist by doling out generous portions of their music. As for the performers who are featured, all they need is a little room to show their stuff and all credit for the album's grand success is theirs. These are the grand old men of Cajun, the names that come up time and time again in interviews with stars of the genre. Like many originally folk forms of music, the appeal of this music style eventually led it to be played by full, almost pop-sounding ensembles by the '90s. Cajun had already influenced the sound of country and rock music in previous decades to the point where there are probably plenty of listeners whose idea of Cajun music might not encompass the wild and raw performances on this compilation. The instrumental combinations are deliciously sparse, removing the entire elephantine nature of drum set and electric amplification. A stomping foot is what listeners have instead of electric bass on the duos by "Bois Sec" Ardoin and Canray Fontenot. The latter man's fiddle is a hearty thing; the vocals by these guys make Tony Joe White sound like a prepubescent choir boy. The sensitivity and split tones in their singing bring to mind the recordings of Native American medicine men. Guitarist Preston Manuel, another important figure in this genre, performs "La Bataille dans le Petit Abre" in a trio with Isom Fontenot on harmonica and Aubrey DeVille on fiddle; the piece is gorgeous, pretty as any ever recorded and certainly a high point in tracks featuring harmonica. Producer and editor Ralph Rinzler gets credit for the fadeout, for which he should be punished by a forced bath in a stinky bayou. DeVille and Manuel get together for a duet which is charming, the accompaniment dropping so far back in volume behind the hilariously over-recorded vocal that it starts to feel like a tickle. The second side is devoted to tracks by the duo of Adam and Cyprien Landreneau, both singing and wailing on violin and accordion, respectively. The group is rounded out by Dewey Balfa, whose presence on triangle fills out an important part of the rhythmic component in a symbolic way, the younger man's presence respectively acknowledging the way this music has been passed on from generation to generation. This side is a romper-stomper, the amusing interludes of studio chatter almost a relief from the musical intensity. Landreneau the fiddler has a tone so sharp that it would send avant-garde jazz violinists such as Billy Bang or Leroy Jenkins running for cover. The way he plays the melody on "La Prairie Ronde" is astounding. On "Les Pinieres" he almost sounds like an alien life form, and that's not the first time an outsider has felt this way about things Cajun. It must be admitted certain listeners may express displeasure at the sound of the vocals on these tracks, even after seeing pictures of what these guys look like (they are a couple of old men and they sing like a couple of old men). Voices crack, yet carefully timed hoots seem to be pitched in a sophisticated relation to the fiddle and accordion harmony. Cajun fans looking for a collection of pieces from some of the music's founding fathers can't do better than this. The label left consumers in a state of insecurity about how much printed material would be provided about the music, however. At one point pressings came with a tiny inserted card indicating that a booklet for the project was still unfinished and purchasers could send in for a copy when it was ready. "Au plu tard," as the Cajuns would say.

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