Zydeco is a blend of Cajun and black R&B elements to begin with, so Li'l Brian & the Zydeco Travelers just updated the dominant rhythmic influence from '50 blues and R&B patterns to James Brown soul and funk riffs to create the most vibrant sound in late-'90s zydeco. If Fresh still stuck fairly close to old zydeco models, Z-Funk is a giant step forward that cements the Houston-based band's fresh style by blending Brian and Patrick Terry's original songs with obscure soul/R&B covers and getting a more punchy and live studio sound. The opening "H-Town Zydeco" reveals the instrumental blueprint -- mostly R&B scratch rhythm guitar, occasional thumb-pop bass licks, and drums that land right on the funk one rather than swinging out. But it's still zydeco because Brian Terry knows how to expertly fit his accordion solos into those funky soul slots and he's a good, believable singer who projects sincerity. But the versatile group can take the music any number of ways -- "Bad Time Woman" jump-shifts smartly from an O'Jays "For the Love of Money" quote to a straight racehorse zydeco workout complete with accordion/drums breakdowns and "et toi" shout-outs. The JB's' "Back Up and Try It Again" develops a strong party vibe around its slippery funk riff, chanted title phrase, and strong accordion. King Floyd's "Baby Let Me Kiss You" sports a funky, quasi-reggae feel and the title track is a zydeco-rap declaration of principles, but "You Got Me Crying" is a faithful nod to zydeco godfather Clifton Chenier. The uptempo romps "I Don't Know Why" and "Tang the Hump," the latter an instrumental where bassist Emory Jackson and drummer Charles LaMark II shine, are balanced by the lazing-the-day-away "Sunday Walk." Z-Funk is a triumph for Li'l Brian & the Zydeco Travelers, one that bodes well for a band that should keep expanding the horizons of zydeco for years to come. As Michael Tisserand's astute liner notes point out, this new blend is a perfectly natural progression for bandmembers in their early twenties who have absorbed zydeco classics in one ear and '90s R&B and rap sounds in the other.
AllMusic Review by Don Snowden