Nathan Abshire

Pine Grove Blues/The Good Times Are Killing Me

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This two-on-one CD reissue pairs two albums Nathan Abshire released on Swallow in 1968 and 1975. According to the liner notes on the original Pine Grove Blues LP, this was Abshire's first album, although he had previously had some tracks on several various-artists collections. The Balfa Brothers back him on most of the songs on this jovial, none-too-slick-sounding Cajun recording, devoted mostly to Abshire originals. Actually, the bottom end of "La Valse de Holly Beach" is a little muddily recorded by the standards of the 1970s, but if anything that adds to the appeal of music that wasn't meant to sound too finely honed in the recording studio. Joe South's "Games People Play" makes for an unexpected cover choice, though it's slotted into a standard upbeat Cajun rhythm, with infectious ensemble "la-la" backup vocals, steel guitar, accordion, and fiddle. Is there a drawback to a well-executed set by a major veteran Cajun musician in which the performers sound like they're having fun? Well, it's one that bugs many a non-Cajun obsessive: By the time you get late in the program of these 12 songs, you wish for a little more variety in this standard mix of cheery up-tempo tunes and lazy, drawling slower ones. As on the prior Pine Grove Blues, the Balfa Brothers take a prominent role as accompanists on The Good Times Are Killing Me. It differs from the previous record, though, in that Abshire takes just five of the lead vocals on the 12 selections. The lead singing is distributed much as it would be in a leaderless band, with some vocals taken by Rodney Balfa, others by Dewey Balfa, and some by Thomas Langley. Also, the production is usually crisper this time around, and the percussion is more to the forefront in the mix. With respect to repertoire and performance, though, it's pretty much the same traditionally based mix of two-steps and waltzes, up-tempo and slow tempo. The alternation of different lead singers helps alleviate the similarity that causes the attention of many to drag over the course of a Cajun album. The slower, more lugubrious numbers have a welcome honky tonk country feel. The closing "La Noce a Rosalie" is the most atypical piece, sounding a little like an unplugged front-porch toss-off, with spoken sections from Abshire.

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