Buckwheat Zydeco

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Buckwheat Zydeco

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In the early years of the 21st century, Universal Music, the largest record company in the world, maintained various reissue lines for its catalog holdings, many of them administered through the Hip-O imprint. A series called Ultimate Collection consisted of full-price, single-disc retrospectives that often included material licensed from other companies for completeness; Gold was a double-CD series. The company's multi-title 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection series of best-ofs, on the other hand, despite its grandiose name, was the bargain-basement, discount line, consisting of single discs of modest length assembled from available catalog and usually priced under $10 at retail. The disc devoted to Buckwheat Zydeco is typical. The Cajun master (who has been the subject of an Ultimate Collection already) has an extensive discography, most of it spent on independent labels. But in 1986 he signed with Universal's Island imprint and ultimately released four albums with the company between 1987 and 1994. Those discs are the source for the 12 tracks here. As is often the case, Buckwheat Zydeco's major-label sojourn was a good news/bad news situation. The good news was that he got increased exposure through the larger marketing capacity of a major label and at least one substantial payday, the day his advance came in. The bad news was that Island had to find a way to sell him beyond his natural constituency, and it did so by the usual brain-dead concepts major labels tend to employ: have the artist cover familiar songs, in this case songs by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Hank Williams, and have the artist team up with better-known artists, in this case Clapton and Dwight Yoakam. In a way, it's hard to blame the A&R executives. Buckwheat Zydeco is more a performer than a creative recording artist in conventional terms. Left to himself, he will play instrumentals like "Ma 'Tit Fille," "Honky Tonk Zydeco," and "Where There's Smoke There's Fire" that are credited to him as songwriter, but that are really just familiar zydeco and blues arrangements full of conventional chord changes and cries of "Et toi!" That works fine when you're playing a club, of course, but not when you're trying to sell records. At least with a piece of sympathetic material like Dylan's "On a Night Like This," the band is playing a recognizable song. Still, to aficionados, these recordings do not constitute the best of Buckwheat Zydeco by any measure.

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