Various Artists

Swamp Music, Vol. 6: Prend Donc Courage - Early Black & White Cajun

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It seems that the producers of the Cajun music series are not only polymorphous in their selections, they are perverse about the order these records (ten in all) are being issued. This set features only two performers, legends in the history of Cajun music and in Louisiana music in general. The first 11 tracks are by Cleoma Falcon, who, from 1928 to 1940, was Cajun's "belle of the ball" with a series of recordings for Bluebird, Brunswick, Decca, and other labels. He plaintive voice and rudimentarily strummed guitar were apparently no drawback for the thousands who bought her records and attended her show -- including a "showcase" for Columbia records in the 1930s. While her biggest-selling recording -- which is also the Cajun national anthem -- "Jolie Blond" is not included here, many of her other hits are, such as the swing blues "Lulu Revenue Dans la Village" and "C'est Si Triste." Ardoin is a far more traditional Cajun artist. His songs are raw, full of the confounding yet seductive rhythms of South Louisiana. If anything, Ardoin is a true folksinger -- if a singer is what you can call him. He shouts all of his lyrics, no matter the tune, and the violin follows the melody exactly to keep him in the same pitch range. Doesn't matter, these are some of the most exciting recordings from the 20s, 30s, and 40s imaginable. They are as primal as rock & roll, but as traditional as any old child ballade on the Harry Smith Anthology. There is no grain in Ardoin's voice, it is the grain, and the green and the mud and the water all rolled up into a hot sticky mass of emotion. For examples, check out "La Valse Abe," with its stomping fiddle and accordion breaks, and "Madame Etienne," which is a blues shout if I've ever heard one dressed as a Cajun fiddle reel. The disc ends with Ardoin doing "Les Blues From Prison." Here, the tune attempts to be a Cajun folk song, but it slips away because of Ardoin's vocal into an ether inspired by a terrifying vision. He no longer cares about the melody or the time signature that is all cut time anyway; it's all the band can do, as Ardoin howls his anguish and fear into the microphone. This track for all its terrible beauty is worth the price of the album, though it's a solid run all the way through.

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