“Music is a gift we are blessed with as a family,” says Laura Huval, member of the all-female trio, Sweet Cecilia.
Laura (vocals, mandolin, acoustic guitar), her sister Maegan Berard (vocals, bass, guitars), along with their first cousin, Callie Guidry’s (vocals, percussion, drums) formally assembled in 2012 as Sweet Cecilia. Named for their small-town home outside of Lafayette, their roots run deep through southern Louisiana. Serendipitously, St. Cecilia serves as the patron Saint of Musicians.
The aptly titled band balances their ancestral ties with more dynamic production approaches to deliver a tantalizing blend of country, rock, folk, and Cajun influences. of these three women
Amidst this chaotic year, Sweet Cecilia honors their father (Callie’s uncle), Al Berard’s legendary life with their Grammy-nominated album A Tribute To Al Berard.
Al “Pyook” Berard was born into a crawfishing family as the youngest of eight children. His bayou upbringing ran through his blood and resounded through his work as a singer, songwriter, and Grammy-nominated musician.
Berard was a purveyor of Acadian/Creole cultural traditions. When he was taken suddenly at age 53 by a brain hemorrhage, his family inherited that responsibility. Shortly after his passing in 2014, they organized the Al Berard Memorial Music Fund. The fund is part of the Community Foundation of Acadiana, which promotes Acadiana’s unique musical culture by providing instruments, master teachers, and music scholarships to students of all ages.
In 2018, following their sophomore Sing Me A Story, Sweet Cecilia began navigating another personal endeavor. Looking over the patriarch’s original work, the women decided to breathe new life into Berard’s classics.
“Part of this project was healing for us,” Laura explains. “Not to say closure, it’s never closure. But it was a process on that grief journey. The point was to honor him and raise money for the fund. So the intention behind it was pure, but the Grammy part was divine intervention.”
Intentionality weaves through every part of this collection. Their producer, Tony Daigle, who has won Grammys for his work with BB King, is native to the region. His intimate familiarity with Al Berard’s upbringing guided the project in a profoundly personal direction.
Along with two of Berard’s original bandmates from The Basin Brothers (Dwayne Brasseaux, Keith Blanchard), Laura’s husband (Adrian Huval) played the accordion, and Maegan’s ex-husband (Kyle Herbert) contributed fiddle techniques that Berard initially taught him. Their mother/aunt, Karleen, even chimed in with the triangle.
“We wanted to make it with the people we love, whom Daddy loved, that cared enough to put their heart and soul into every single note,” says Laura.
Sweet Cecilia’s sultry three-part harmonies, recorded in their family’s home studio, carry tales of their musical heritage through the seven-track album. Their delicate dance with Cajun linguistics is hauntingly reminiscent of their predominantly French-speaking father/uncle’s twang.
Each song on the record was hand-selected from Al Berard’s highly acclaimed catalog. From traditional Cajun music to beautiful ballads to rock n’ roll hits, his song collection chronicles a life brimming with love and adventure that ended too soon.
Collectively, they found his traditional Cajun tunes translated most naturally to the trio’s soundscape.
Laura highlights “Dans La Louisiane,” meaning “In Louisiana.” It’s a faster waltz elevated by the trio’s sumptuous harmonies. The French lyrics detail Berard’s first heartbreak.
“We recorded it in the same key he originally sang it in,” Laura explains. “I mean, he was really was belting it—you can feel my dad’s joy and heartbreak.”
The women took further liberties with track five, “Saute La Barriere.”
Translating to “Jump the Fence,” they transformed a fun two-step into a rock-fusion type song. With a quick twist of words, Sweet Cecilia turned the “don’t mess with my woman” memo into “not my man.”
Laura credits the grittier turn in this Blues-tinged track to Daigle’s craft and her sister’s slow-burning guitar solo.
Sweet Cecilia’s is nominated for Grammy Award in the Best Regional Roots Album Category for their latest studio album, A Tribute To Al Berard. All proceeds from the album sales benefit the Al Berard Memorial Music Fund at Community Foundation of Acadiana (CFA).
The 63rd annual Grammy Awards will be held on Sunday, January 31, 2021, and will be broadcast on CBS.