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.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.