Austin Pitre

Opelousas Waltz

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Suppose Opelousas Waltz qualifies as a Cajun garage record since 13 tracks were literally recorded in Austin Pitre's garage, with the final five from a dance at the Silver Star five days before. Although the experience Pitre picked up recording for the local Swallow label shows -- every song here is a compact two and a half to three minutes long -- this is still Cajun music recorded without any thought of audiences outside Cajun territory. The excellent liner notes by Ann Allen Savoy really give you the context for this music: hard, hard sharecropper work during the week with making music and dancing on the weekends. There are fascinating tidbits like how the famed "fais do do" -- where mothers put their children to sleep in an adjacent room and then rejoined the dance -- disappeared with a 1952 Louisiana state law barring children from anywhere alcohol was served and a few rare insights on the Cajun music scene from the woman's side. The music is classic Cajun with accordion, fiddle, guitar rhythm, and drums with the bass drum providing a foundation thump. Most of the songs are public domain, with a few Pitre originals and Clifton Chenier's genre-naming "Zydeco Sont Pas Sale" done here live with a pedal steel lead and Pitre's accordion pumping the rhythm. "Cajun Breakdown" is a fine example of the unerring swing to the music, while "Evangeline Playboys Special" shows that consistency is a virtue for Pitre. There's an evenness in the tempos and instrumental tones -- "Grand Basil" gives a good taste of how the accordion and fiddle sort of harmonize and intertwine -- and not much variation in the approach. But the execution is very pro with two-steps for slow dances and the more up-tempo material fast enough to generate dancefloor action without getting too wild.

Pitre is out of the fluid, melodic accordion school and doubles on fiddle for plenty of high-pitched (and sort of out of tune) sawing on "Lake Arthur Stomp" and "Cheres Joues Rose." His nasal, whining voice is pretty grating, though, and while the live tracks feature more active drums, Will Balfa's abrasive fiddle detracts from the pleasant surprise of J.W. Pelsia's mellow pedal steel. There are plenty of other Cajun discs -- by the Balfa Brothers and Beausoleil or one of the Ardoin clan, to name a few -- that would make better introductions, but Opelousas Waltz is a perfectly representative slice of traditional, accordion-and-fiddle-driven Cajun music. There's not a glimmer of artifice -- Pitre's band just set up and played like they probably did the weekend before Chris Strachwitz showed up with his recording equipment and probably did the weekend after he left.

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