Various Artists

Cajun Home Music

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The recording expedition of Gerard Dole, who puts his name in typeface larger than any of the performers featured here, resulted in a superb collection of unusual performances from the Cajun tradition. While this music has almost from the beginning focused on combo performances at dances, feasts, and various other types of get-togethers, as well as providing material for the always growing recording industry, this album is more about the type of music people who live in this part of the world might make at home, on a non-professional basis. The results are only partially honest, since some of the performers featured, such as Dennis McGee, are professionals. But such players also make music in the more intimate settings of the home, so the lack of a focus on amateur players can be excused, or not even treated as a problem. Not so for the cover art, which demands a thumbs-down in the strongest terms well before any further discussion of the music. While some record consumers are ready to erect a holy shrine to the Folkways label, there have been some serious problems with the way the company markets its productions over the years. And the cover photo of this record, which heartlessly exploits the sheer macabre ugliness of two Cajun peasant types, is a breach of taste so vast that it defies comprehension. The elderly man and woman pictured do not perform on the record. They are identified as an elderly farm couple from the Crowley area, circa the late '30s. The recordings featured here are from the mid-'70s and have absolutely no connection to this photograph other than whatever might have been made in some graphic designer's mind in terms of creating a striking image. That it certainly is, though it is the type of photography that gets most of its attention from galoots thumbing through record bins looking for kicks. Using this photo was an ugly and exploitative act, and forever mars this production. But of course the music effortlessly transcends this, as it has risen above so many other types of social and economic problems for its creators. With the exception of the younger Marc Savoy, the performers featured were all born either at the end of the 19th century or early in the 20th. Instruments used tend toward the small and portable and include the fiddle, originally the main solo instrument in Cajun, as well as accordion; triangle; the teeth-smacking instrument known as a Jew's harp, Jaw harp, or rook; and the harmonica. The music is often simple and sparse, with a more subdued rhythmic emphasis than the often propulsive live sounds of a Cajun band. Hearing a tune done with only accordion and ringing triangle backing, for example, can have the effect of an important message being delivered from the heavens. The vocal styles of artists such as Agnes Bourque could be a touch intense for wimpy listeners, and illustrates how much watering down and sweetening goes on even within the confines of a traditional music as it turns into a pop-influencing juggernaut such as Cajun became. The fiddle duo of the previously mentioned McGee and his longtime playing partner, Sady Courville, provides miraculous interplay, so the decision to turn almost half the tracks on the record over to this pair turns out to be a smart one. The solo accordion of Narcisse Cormier resonates with deep feeling, as do the harmonica solos of Elisabeth Landreneau. There really isn't a bum track in the collection. Dole also provides informative liner notes, although the decision to print them all in an italic typeface is both hard to understand and tough on the eyes.

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