L' Amour Ou la Folie

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From the first track of L'Amour Ou la Folie to the last, Michael Doucet and Beausoleil cover a wide array of material, from original compositions to adaptations of popular songs from the 1930s. With few exceptions, it all works marvelously. There are some oddities here, like the I-think-this-works-but-I'm-not-sure "Can't You See" (a "swamp pop" song from the '50s that answers the question, "What would Fats Domino sound like if he lived on the bayou?"), but the majority of the tracks on this record are traditional tunes or fairly straight-ahead Doucet originals. This album is a relaxed outing in all regards, and even the up-tempo tracks, such as the terrific fiddle feature "Newz Reel," aren't aggressively driving. Beausoleil do a good job with the arrangements, making good use of guest artists to supply color from piano, clarinet, and pedal steel, the high point being the inclusion of Richard Thompson's guitar on two songs. Beausoleil has already acknowledged their appreciation of Thompson by covering his song "Valerie" on 1994's tribute album Beat the Retreat, and now Thompson returns the favor. Most notable is his performance on the outstanding title track, where he contributes some ferocious electric solos. Doucet's singing, when he stays within his range, is mostly good here. On the best tracks, such as "Les Blues de Creve de Faim," it is evocative and emotionally wringing. However, at its worst, it borders on the offensive, as on "Les Blues de la Prison." Even on the stronger tracks, Doucet has some pitch problems, which, although charming, colorful, and completely idiomatic, really begin to grate in large doses (his howling on the traditional "Eunice Two-Step" simply must be heard to be believed). In fact, there is a noticeable decline in the overall quality of the material the further one gets into the album. In selective doses, however, this is a solid record, one that seems made for being listened to on a languid summer day on the back porch, with your feet propped up and a tall glass of iced tea in one hand. Fans of the genre could do a lot worse.

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