Cajun music is spirited, social, soulful stuff filled with fiddles, accordions, washboards, guitars, bass, drums, and other percussion. People party to the music. And dance: fast waltzes, two-steps, shuffles, reels, and stomps, plus the occasional slow, hold-em-and-weep number, mainly to let the dancers catch their breath. It’s more about the feel-good than the lyrics, which is OK because much of the singing is in French, anyway.
Back in 1975, Michael Doucet and BeauSoleil became, basically, the second generation of Cajun and zydeco musicians, the ones who took the traditional music to new places by incorporating bits of Tex-Mex, Western swing, blues, Dixieland, and even calypso. That’s especially evident on the 10-time Grammy-nominated band’s new, 29th CD, Alligator Purse, which successfully preserves the tradition, expands the circle, and grabs new sounds to pull inside that circle.
Mixed in with the traditional are “Rouler et Tourner” (a take on the upbeat blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”) and a Cajun version of singer-songwriter Julie Miller’s excellent country-rocker “Little Darlin’.” It’s a kick to hear some of the guests, including Natalie Merchant, John Sebastian, and Garth Hudson.
It’s also a kick to hear the new release Homage Au Passe from the younger, third-generation Pine Leaf Boys, founded in 2005 in the same southwestern Louisiana landscape. The younger band, already a two-time Grammy nominee, is surprisingly more traditional, not yet pushing the genre’s limits but content to remain, so far, a little less adventurous than BeauSoleil. That may change with experience, curiosity, or creative restlessness, or the group may stay firmly within the style, a comfortable place to be.
Both discs capture Cajun music’s exceptional soulfulness.