Devon Leger – No Depression
Language barriers can make it a helluva hard time to really understand a music, so it’s no surprise that most reviewers and music writers think of Cajun music as being something separate than country music. If you listen to the lyrics though, Cajun music is as country as they come. All these old Cajun songs that people think are based on some medieval French ballad are really mostly just made up of phrases about lost women and lost men. Whether they’re lost to the oilfields of East Texas, or lost to the arms of another man, Cajun music is made for drinking beer and trying to forget your latest breakup… by reveling in it. That’s not where new Cajun outfit The Revelers draw their name from, but it could be. Cajuns love to revel in their own culture, and thank god for that.
The Revelers are drawn from the ranks of the Red Stick Ramblers, one of the best young Cajun bands around. But the Ramblers are known as much for pushing the envelope, bringing swing and jazz into the music with a ferocity that’s made them the darlings of roots music festivals everywhere. Now these members of the Ramblers have put together a true Cajun country band in The Revelers. Sure, the accordion rides front and center, and sure most of the songs are in Cajun French, but the first and last thing you hear is the country twang and swamp-pop sizzle of Southwest Louisiana.
The Revelers are coming out of a red-hot scene around Lafayette, Lousiana. A scene known not just for awesome bands (Feufollet, The Givers, Pine Leaf Boys, Cajun Country Revival, Lost Bayou Ramblers) but also for cutting-edge community arts work. Glenn Fields, the Revelers’ drummer, organizes the much-buzzed about Black Pot Festival, a model for community-based roots music festivals. Seems like everyone I know these days is asking “Are you going to Black Pot this year?” And it’s not like the rest of the US hasn’t noticed this scene. Anthony Bourdain recently made the trip out to Southwest Louisiana to take part in a boucherie (hog butchering party) with Linzay Young and Joel Savoy, and the big news here is that The Red Stick Ramblers were just added to the cast of HBO’s New Orleans epic “Treme” as recurring characters. Why is this scene so hot? Because the musicians involved are massively talented and totally committed to making music for fun, rather than for profit. A lot of people could learn from this example.
But back to the album. The Revelers debut full-length is just a hell of a good time. They’re a tight band, featuring two fiddlers: Daniel Coolik and Blake Miller (who also plays accordion throughout), with guitarist Chas Justus and bassist Eric Frey, plus drummer Glenn Fields. They play a wide spread of traditional and original songs, and interestingly nearly every band member contributes a song. Opening track “Des Fois” by Miller is a great example of Cajun country music. It’s a remarkable well written song, and big thanks to the digital liner notes for translating the French. “Je me lève dans le matin aves des larmes aux yeux des fois/Des larmes aux yeux quand même je voudrais sourir/Un cigarette et un whiskey me fait sentir mieux/Je crois cette vie va me fair mourir” (I wake up in the morning with tears in my eyes sometimes/Tears in my eyes even though I want to smile/A cigarette and whiskey makes me feel a little better/I believe this life is gonna kill me”). The next two tracks, “If You Ain’t Got Love” and “Cry for You” sound like 70s country, with just the right kind of rhinestone bling. They’re in English too, a relative rarity for the new breed of Cajun musicians. The Revelers also channel some good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, and by old-fashioned, I mean closer to rockabilly than Springsteen. “Kidnapper” is a killer rocker from Jewell and the Rubies, and “Jukebox Blues” is vintage swamp pop from Louisiana songwriter Tommy McLain. Of course, traditional Cajun music pops in, with the great Dennis McGee fiddle tune “Wang Wang Blues” and the classic “La Valse de Cadiens.” Really the songs are as eclectic as they can be, but all are anchored by the unflinching fiddle/accordion chore of Cajun music, and by a remarkable amount of tasty twang.
If you want a litmus test for what’s going on in SW Louisiana these days, try out The Revelers. They’re paving a new path with their old school take on Cajun and Country music.