I was a kid when I got hooked into listening to Doug Kershaw. The bayou fiddler’s records were always around the house and were instantly enjoyable. That passion and joy is a hard find and, more importantly, a tougher sell these days. But there are still those plying their craft with the same Cajun flair. Buckwheat Zydeco’s new album has a lot of that drive, although the opening “I’m Gonna Love You Anyway” finds him sounding like he about to duel with guitarist Robert Cray, only Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr. has his hands on an accordion. The horns and organ tend to inflate the song needlessly but the song still works thanks to the almost Austin blues format and flavor. His solos are the highlight on this tune also, creating his own swinging Cajun blues.
When the band gets chugging and rolling, though, as it does on the lovely, jumpy, jerky “It Must Be Magic”, they are in their realm. Here they nail the tune thanks to some backing vocals by Catherine Russell and the tight rhythm section of bassist Lee Allen Zeno and drummer Gerard St. Julien. Throw in the subtle rubboard (if that instrument can be subtle) and you have yourself an infectious little romp. It might be a stretch, but the connection between Fats Domino and Buckwheat Zydeco is quite apparent on this tune, although the latter draws the song out near the four-minute mark. You will also be hitting the repeat button a few times after this one.
The group also adheres to Zydeco Commandment #1 and #2: Thou shalt boogie. Boogie, boogie, boogie… Nowhere is this found more than on the played-down pizzazz of “Rock, Boogie, Shout”, which uses the horns to great effect. The song also is completely fleshed out, keeping the vibe going and leaving you wanting more. However, the title track is a funky affair that really seems to suck any momentum out of the album. Dural sings about winning the jackpot but he missed a number or two by the sounds of this effort. The chorus is okay but the verses just lie around without much oomph or verve. The organ and accordion during the soul-teeming bridge are sweet but they’re not enough to carry the song from start to finish. Don’t let it get you down, though, as the band shines on the tight, toe-tapping party rave up entitled “Come And Get Yourself Some”, possessing the classic up-tempo pace Dural fashioned with the Red Hot Louisiana Band in the ‘70s. This leads nicely into the Acadian-esque “Old Times La La” that is a pure Zydeco tune with a slight shuffle to it as Dural sings en Francais for all of it.
After an average “Come Back Home Baby” makes little to no impression, the group then offers up “Changes”. And no, not a Zydeco cover of the Thin White Duke! On the contrary, this is a good Zydeco ditty that has Dural giving some of his best blues-soul lyrics over his accordion playing. “You Lookin’ For Me?” isn’t that stellar, however, coming off as that sort of tune that isn’t quite filler but not quite solid enough to be taken seriously. This is where the album takes a turn but not for the better, something the band calls “Organic Buckwheat”. Here the main emphasis is on Dural’s mastery of the Hammond B-3 and electric keyboard on “Buck’s Going Downtown”. While it’s a strong solo effort by him, Zydeco it is not. It has a lot in common with the blues, but with no power or overt soul.
This track is also part of a Buck “trilogy”, as the ensuing tune is dubbed “Buck’s Going Uptown”. The song, dedicated to Jimmy Smith, has more substance going for it with a faster, pick-me-up beat to it, resembling something you might have heard in the juke joints decades ago. Again, it’s not zydeco, but Dural executes this track far better than the previous one. The horns beef things up also, as Dural goes to town on the Hammond organ. But he pushes the envelope way over the musical desk with “Buck’s Going to Frenchtown”, a reggae-ish song that seems quite foreign to his fans or following. Perhaps if he ended it with “Buck’s Going Back to Zydecotown” it would’ve ended on a high note. As it stands, though, Buckwheat Zydeco is great at what he does, but he seems to be venturing into Buckwheat Hammondco.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.