[10 June 2009]
The Red Stick Ramblers have built a following by touring relentlessly since 1999, having played over 200 shows in the last year alone. Many of these gigs are festivals, including the South Louisiana Black Pot Festival and Cookoff—one of the only Cajun festivals—which they started. Fans of traditional Cajun, Zydeco, old-time, and Irish music appreciate their mixture of traditional styles with a forward edge. Clog-hoppers find a steadfast ally in their insatiable dancing quests.
My Suitcase Is Always Packed finds the band with eleven more original songs (and two traditional Cajun dance numbers) that are more focused than previous releases. “We really tried to make a listenable record,” says guitarist Chad Justus. Rather than merely capture the essence of a live show, the band has produced an album created in an open, relaxed, and social environment. Considering that the studio had its own homebrew station attached (in co-producer Gary Paczosa’s house) should also shed a little light on the setting.
The Cajun culture champions its social aspect, as food, family, friendship, music, and dance form its backbone. Fiddler and vocalist Linzay Young, having grown up in the Cajun culture, certainly adds extra authenticity to the Baton Rouge band, which aims to give an identity to the Louisiana sound. At times honky-tonk, country, or Caribbean, the Ramblers also incorporate Cajun French (the first song is “Je Taime Pas Mieux”) and Celtic fiddle. “I’m Drinkin’ to You” is a jaunty little track that involves Young’s amber baritone mixing with Wimmer’s shadowing harmonies. The two voices meld together with similar grains and timbres, making these and any other harmonies (also featuring bassist Eric Frey) that much more gut-wrenching. What sounds like lap steel adds twangs sporadically and the fiddle swings. Despite the upbeat melody, the song describes the long-sung loneliness of a rejected love. Several songs center on dejection, relationships ending or falling apart, or loneliness in love. Of course, these topics often lead to some of the greatest songs ever known (“So Lonesome I Could Cry”, anyone?).
Fans of live shows might at first be put off by this record’s large number of slower ballads, lonely blues, Western swing, and dirges. However, the ones that aren’t waltz-inducing (“Goodbye to the Blues”) yank at the heartstrings and command the utmost attention. And, of course, throughout the slower songs the Ramblers are putting a Louisiana branding iron to the arrangements. Standout track “My Bloodshot Eyes” looks at a fun relationship realistically. “You and I had some fun / But between you and me it can be overdone”, Young croons. The lascivious nature of the song content (presumably staying up all night doing coke and having sex) contrasts with the boyish baritone Young exudes. The killer opening phrases of “You were always so wise / Reminding me to cross my T’s / And dot my bloodshot eyes” expands as the fiddles and drums enter at a fast crescendo. Glen Fields keeps the waltzing minimal percussion at a reasonable pace. Mr. Williams, Sr. himself would surely approve.
For the diehards, the aforementioned traditional Cajun tracks include Blake Miller on accordion. The Zydeco tunes lack only a prominent washboard, although this reviewer would not say anything is lacking. These are the tracks that keep the dance, food, friends, and family at the forefront, allowing a Cajun festival to last all night.