BeauSoleil: Alligator Purse

Ben Child
Photo: Kenneth Cooke

BeauSoleil has created a record that is both Cajun to its core and something else entirely.


Alligator Purse

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2009-01-06
UK Release Date: 2009-01-26

There must be tremendous burdens associated with becoming a certifiable cultural institution. BeauSoleil, the Michael Doucet-led Cajun band from Lafayette, Louisiana should know -- they have an NEA National Heritage Fellowship and a shelf-full of Grammy nods as proof. (Doucet has a hand in two of the five Zydeco or Cajun Grammy nominations this year, for instance.) And like another cultural institution they frequently bump up against -- Garrison Keilor's A Prairie Home Companion -- the band must balance progress with politeness, must be representative but not derivative, must feel familiar instead of simply nostalgic. On Alligator Purse, the band's first album for the venerable Yep Roc label, BeauSoleil finds that balance. They’ve created a record that is both Cajun to its core and something else entirely.

The instrumentals, like the set’s opener “Real Cajun (451 N. St. Joseph)” and its closer “Valse á Thomas Adroin”, put the Cajun tradition in center-stage. But for such a definitively Cajun band, BeauSoleil lets the tradition reach in a number of different directions. “Marie”, for example, shows the band at work against an R&B horn section. And a cover of J.J. Cale’s “The Problem” boldly conflates the sounds of the west coast and the gulf coast. Throughout the record, in fact, BeauSoleil proves Cajun music’s versatility by offering it as a matrix through which run strands of country, blues, rowdy folk, and jazz.

The best example on the new record is probably “Rouler et Tourner”. The song, most recently revived and revised by Bob Dylan on 2006's Modern Times, is actually a cover of a cover of a cover of an ancient blues, in French. And it’s a fine example of how the folk process works in the postmodern era. The fiddle handles the looping guitar figures and Doucet’s slurred vocal show how much can actually be gained in translation. Listening to this track, it’s clear that the band’s rugged earthiness and its quick flexibility, not its penchant for traditionalism, are its greatest assets.

In addition to BeauSoleil's core line-up, Alligator Purse features a number of guests. Natalie Merchant adds harmonies to the Julie Miller song “Little Darlin’” and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian makes an appearance, as do upstate New York heavy-hitters Artie and Happy Traum and the telecaster wizard Jim Weider. The most remarkable guest spot, however, goes to Garth Hudson, who contributes an introduction to “I Spent All My Money Loving You” that sounds like a more sagacious, more subdued version of the Band’s seminal “Chest Fever”, As with most of what he plays, that brief appearance becomes a thumbnail history of the shape of North American music. But this is BeauSoleil’s record and they themselves have plenty to teach, so they seize back the song with a steady beat and a snaky assurance.

This record is a repository of Cajun tradition, and as such it would be a fantastic introduction to Cajun music. But it is also a subtle, respectful revision of the form. In other words, it spreads its scope wider than any single genre and finds something interesting and meaningful at nearly every turn.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.