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Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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Yvette Landry, No Man’s Land (Independent)

Some readers may also be unaware of a Cajun-music explosion of talent, creativity, and inspiration building within what used to be thought of solely as traditional Cajun music. Headquartered in the Cajun capitol of Lafayette, two hours due west from New Orleans, the new Cajun revival has already produced remarkable revelations and wheelbarrow-loads of great music from a new generation hell-bent on campaigning for a renewed appreciation of deep roots as well as the ability of rock-raised young Cajuns to make centuries-old traditions entirely new again.

A deep and abiding dedication to creating their revolution within the world of spoken and sung Cajun French may have limited access for some listeners, but the new Cajun revival has increasingly opened its arms to other forms of string-band music while at the same time returning to the strains of honky tonk music that colored the sound of popular Cajun music throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s.

And then there’s this: whereas historically Cajun music, born of a deeply traditional culture, has discouraged women from becoming professional performers, the new Cajun revival, instead, has openly embraced all genders of creative input. One result is this extraordinary new release from singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Yvette Landry that sashays its way around the dance floor so gracefully the listener will be hard-pressed to keep in mind these are new compositions so flawlessly do they swing and sway within the world of honky tonk music.

Female listeners, though, will notice something different right away: No Man’s Land means just that: this is exquisitely rendered honky tonk music heard entirely from a female perspective and offered in admirably artful story-songs. In a similar vein: Yvette Landry’s first CD, Should Have Known, also independently released, and a scorcher of alt-country rock from Landry’s band mate in the leading young female contingent Bonsoir, Catin – Kristi Guillory’s Broken Glass, which offers seven beautifully crafted alt-country compositions capped off by a lovely rendering of the Leonard Cohen version of “Tennessee Waltz.”

Various, Let Me Play This for You: Rare Cajun Recordings 1929-1930, (Tompkins Square)

If you’re going to have a latter-day music revival, it’s probably a good idea to have deep musical roots to inform your revival. In the case of the new Cajun revival ongoing now in south Louisiana, the very oldest forms of the music have become a matter of both interest and inspiration. While some of that tradition may have been handed down over generations, there are essential recordings dating back to the late 1920s that help musicians and listeners alike get a feeling for what that old-time Cajun music really sounded like. What’s remarkable about those old recordings, despite the limitations of recording technology, is the wild and unrelenting energy that comes through, past the scratchy vinyl, the muted accordion and brittle fiddle sounds, is a kind of wild abandonment based in exuberant celebration. For some of today’s young new revival bands, those sounds resonate with the rock they heard growing up to conjure an imaginary collaboration between the ancient and the contemporary.

Two years ago, the exemplary Tompkins Square label brought together on a brilliantly packaged 2-CD set all existing recordings by a musician considered to be the major creative force in 20th-century Cajun music and its revival. Amédé Ardoin, Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone (Tompkins Square) collects historic recordings made between 1929 and 1934 that now constitute the cornerstone of Cajun revival music. Going a step farther, Tompkins Square this summer is releasing a single CD of 23 extremely rare recordings from 1929 and 1930 by musicians considered the best of their time in a delightfully high-spirited, creaky-sounding, ultimately entrancing collection that fleshes out the context of Amédé Ardoin’s contribution while continuing to demonstrate the charm and joie de vivre of formerly overlooked, old-time Cajun music.

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Various, Joel Savoy’s Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round, (Valcour Records)

Brother Joel (JO-el) and Wilson Savoy (WIL-sone) (SAV-wa) have been living at the epicenter of the new Cajun revival since birth. Father Marc and mother Ann are both charter members of the first Cajun revival generation, Marc as a musician and master-craftsman accordion maker, Ann as an oral historian and musician/producer whose work includes overview compilations (2002’s Evangeline Made and 2004’s Creole Bred), a duet collaboration with Linda Ronstadt (2006’s Adieu Falso Heart), and more. All four tour frequently together as The Savoy Family Band.

As a co-founder of Valcour Records in 2006 and expert producer working from a homemade studio on the family homestead, Joel Savoy has played a significant role in recording and promoting a lot of the homegrown young talent that’s emerged in past decade-plus from the Cajun heartland, racking up a handful of Grammy nominations and this year taking home the gold statue for The Band Courtbouillon, a trio recording that included brother Wilson as well as ZydeCajun pioneer Wayne Toups and Steve Riley, a senior figure in the new Cajun revival and leader of his own.

Early this year, Savoy recorded and released a set of died-in-the-wool, honky-tonk tunes with a talent-show roster of local standouts providing guest vocals, a format he’s also presented live as Joel Savoy’s Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round.

As leader of one of the new Cajun revival’s most popular and most-in-demand dancehall bands, The Pine Leaf Boys, Wilson Savoy has persistently proven that rock’n’roll energy, extraordinary roadhouse music chops, and honoring age-old traditions can not only work together but get you up off your feet and dancing joyfully almost before you know it’s happened. They’ve won four straight Grammy nominations and hope to add a fifth with their much anticipated new studio recording, Danser, produced by Joel Savoy and due out this fall.

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Various, En Français: Cajun’n’Creole Rock’n’Roll, Vol. 1 (Bayou Teche Brewing)
Various, En Français: Cajun’n’Creole Rock’n’Roll, Vol. 2 (Bayou Teche Brewing)

The brainchild of another of the new Cajun revival’s leading lights, fiddler, vocalist, and bandleader Louis Michot of The Lost Bayou Ramblers, the En Français: Cajun’n’Creole Rock’n’Roll series — issued annually with support from a Cajun-inspired craft brewing company — has taken plenty of listeners by surprise, offering trademark hit songs from the 1960s and 1970s completely redone by a wide-reaching collection of emerging and established Cajun and Creole music masters. Repertoire runs from “Wooly Bully” and The Beatles’ “Revolution” to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the Cajun/world-music band BeauSoleil gettin’ down on their version of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy” (“Ça Me Rend Fou”) and local hard-rockers Isle Dernière tearing it up on “Quand la Levée Casse” (Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”).

Artists are rarely repeated and the tunes chosen seem throughout to perfectly match the choice of artists recording them seem, rendering genuine masterpieces from one-offs like Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys epic, ten-minute rendition of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” (“Au Long de la Riviere”) on Volume 1 and especially Dylan/Hendrix’ “All Along the Watchtower” imbued with ancient Cajun wisdom by The Babineaux Sisters, Grace and Julie, who were 14 and 12, respectively, when they cut that track for Volume Two of the series.

Taken as a whole, the En Français: Cajun’n’Creole Rock’n’Roll, Vols. 1 & 2 work on several levels independently, beginning with the obvious pleasures of oldies nostalgia, moving on to a broad survey of contemporary Cajun and Creole talent, and concluding with a “cross-cultural collaboration” that really brings home the vivacity of Cajun and Creole French culture thriving almost invisibly deep within the heart of 21st-century America. Available from various CD outlets as well as Bayou Teche Brewing’s website.

Trombone Shorty, TBA (Verve)

Bursting onto the national and international music scenes just three years ago when his major-label debut, Backatown, became an instant bestseller, and its follow-up, For True, became an instant, guest-star-studded bestseller, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has become the new musical face of New Orleans, a post-Katrina, 21st-century superstar gifted with the ability to advance a highly popular but musically diverse interpretation of traditional New Orleans jazz and R&B that boasts both a hard-rock edge and presents itself with an intriguing vulnerability. There’s a universally satisfying mellowness deep in the heart of Shorty’s swinging, rocking, and crooning performances, a little something for everyone and, even more so, an easy-going, funky vibe that seems custom-made for a much-awaited mid-summer release.

Due out at the end of July, Shorty’s next CD finds the Crescent City’s favorite son collaborating with R&B singer/songwriter/producer Raphael Saadiq, who served an early apprenticeship with Prince in the mid-1980s, in much the same way that Trombone Shorty spent time in the early 2000s under the wing of Lenny Kravitz, for both musicians an invaluable opportunity to learn both the music business and the art of pleasing an audience. Saadiq has since wracked up eleven Grammy nominations and one Grammy victory (for best R&B song in 2003), while releasing his own bestselling and critically well-received albums and working with established stars that run the gamut from Joss Stone and John Legend to Whitney Houston and Mary G. Blige, never mind providing the backing band for Mick Jagger’s tribute performance of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

One critic has described Saadiq as “pushing a classic aesthetic … deeply indebted to the past and distrustful of easy formulas,” while Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes has characterized Trombone Shorty’s music as “deeply rooted and culturally omnivorous,” providing a match that ought to result in some soulful and sultry summertime sounds.

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