Every year in December I go to an Internet conference in New Orleans. Of course, it’s always great to schmooze with the ‘Net community, make new friends and new connections, and escape the Chicago winter for a few precious days. But the true highlight has to be wandering the streets of the French Quarter, soaking up the sights and the sounds emanating from every corner shop with a stuffed ‘gator and 500 bottles of hot sauce on the wall. Invariably that sound is zydeco, a genuine melting pot of French Arcadian and African music, the indigenous music of Southern Louisiana. Music is seldom as joyous as zydeco and, not surprising for a town with a serious party rep, zydeco is everywhere from the Big Easy down to the swamps and bayous farther south.
Two new Putumayo collections wonderfully document the diversity of zydeco music from rollicking party tunes to bluesier slow-burners. Zydeco intersperses the legends (Clifton Chenier, Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco) with hot young performers who have brought a bit of contemporary R&B to the party (Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin’ and Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band). Few collections span the older styles and today’s popular bands as effectively.
Louisiana Gumbo is zydeco, but so much more. New Orleans (and southern Louisiana) have far more to offer than just zydeco and traditional jazz, as the potent stew of R&B, soul, and blues on this collection proves. Clifton Chenier is there of course, but so are local heroes The Neville Brothers, pianist James Booker, the silky-voiced Johnny Adams, and funkster Eddie Bo “Piano Roll.” Pick up both and then head on down to the Big Easy and eat yourself silly at Antoines, Nola, and K Pauls.