Louisiana Cajun singer and songwriter Zachary Richard has given the world a lot of enjoyable records for dancing, reflection, and relaxation. What makes him really special is a profoundly expressed social consciousness similar to what Dougie MacLean brought to Scottish folk. Richard is an outspoken critic of environmental pollution and a strident defender of Francophone culture. A former resident of New York City and Montreal, he is a published poet who has authored several children's books and has recorded in various languages, including Algonquin and Haitian Creole. Richard's 26-track album Coeur Fidèle is a hefty sampling of this artist's blend of moods and messages. Recorded at Studio La Frette in Paris in 1999, it mixes elements of country, folk, rock, and swamp Cajun. "Hootchie Kootchie Pour Toi" sounds like Dr. John, complete with a horn section. "Joe Ferraille" is real Bayou music with bongos, and the rocking "Écrevisses" is all about crawdads. But you can always count on Richard to take it deeper and set you to thinking, even if you don't understand a word of French. He is a master storyteller and a gifted poet, so adept that the essence of his messages will get through to any listener who maintains an open heart. The title track is a grim tale of murder and regret. "Pagayez" means "Paddle" -- the song describes early French explorers of lands which were destined to become Canada and the Northern U.S. "Un Autre Baiser" ("Another Kiss") paints a poignant picture of an aging, transplanted Zydeco man who has lived for decades in San Francisco and is feeling homesick. "La Ballade de Jackie Vautour" and "Jésus en Arrière" ("Jesus in the Back Seat") specifically address the plight of Acadians evicted from their homes (and traditional fishing waters) at Moncton, New Brunswick in 1976 to make way for a national park -- there are disturbing parallels with the Scottish land clearances and contemporary English real estate schemes as described in the protest songs of Dougie MacLean. "Contre Vents, Contre Marées" ("Against the Tide") and "Réveille" ("Wake Up") are messages to Acadians living in Canada and Louisiana, urging them not to lose touch with their language and cultural roots. Most moving of all perhaps is "Massachusetts," a tale of French Canadians who found steady work in New England but at the expense of their ancestral identity. Leave it to Richard to take it several fathoms deeper by invoking the spirit of Jack Kerouac. A sudden switch to English is nothing short of startling: "My name is Jack and I'm turning my back on pea soup in the kitchen and them Frenchies in the shack. The future looks bright, that's why I'm getting drunk tonight. Gonna find myself an Irishman and get into a fight." Richard dedicates his album to all French-speaking North Americans, "to the peoples of the first Nations….to the Black Creoles, to the half-breeds, to the strippers, to insomniacs, to the people who fish with their bare hands."
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