Here’s what I know about zydeco: Back when I lived in Chapel Hill there was a coffee shop that had a Clifton Chenier record. One day I tried to buy it. The owner said he’d lend it to me for a dollar and I could tape it. It just so happened that I was trying to break a bad tape habit at the time, so I told him I’d think about it. That’s it. I know that Buckwheat Zydeco is band name, but to my knowledge, I’ve never even heard them. I do know that zydeco comes from Louisiana, and so do the Bluerunners, so I guess that’s a good sign. Their first new record in four years is called Honey Slides, which apparently is weed fried in a skillet, smothered in honey and eaten, and I guess that’s a good sign, too. According to the band’s press release, Neil Young used to fancy honey slides back when he was making On the Beach. Mentioning On the Beach is definitely good sign.
Anyone who, like me, has at least heard of zydeco will recognize songs like “Mardi Gras Jig” and “Working Man’s Zydeco” as being just that. There’s a whole lot of fluttering heart accordion and general hootin’ and hollerin’ in a “different” sounding language. It turns out to be a lot of fun. I was even starting to think I should have taped that Clifton Chenier record after I heard some traditional numbers like “Coulee Rodaire” and “Valse de Grand-Pere”. Both tracks employ a high lonesome fiddle accompaniment, lending the proceedings a more fully realized and deeper, darker take on all things Louisiana.
In addition to traditional zydeco, the Bluerunners shake things up with a little bit of loosey-goosey acoustic Stones. “Ghost of a Girl” features Susan Cowsill (of the Cowsills) on vocals and ends up sounding a heck of a lot like “Sweet Black Angel”. It may even remind some of Steve Earle’s mid-’90s rebirth Train a Comin’ — a feeling one might also get listening to the bittersweet lap-steel of the closing number “Big Head”.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of tracks that miss the mark. These songs tend to incorporate a little too much of the white man’s blues into the good time zydeco. Songs like “The Gravedigger”, “I Got You”, and “Walking and Sighing” end up coming off with the ferocity of your local folk festival rather than any kind of rootsy, Southern snarl. Given that, they’re still preferable to the faux-toughness of a track “Voodoomens and Voodoo Dolls”. The stompin’ cover of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Black Cat Bone” feels much more sinister in comparison. Rather than harp too much on the negatives, I’ll simply skip around and get my fill of the swamp this winter.
Now let me tell you what I know about klezmer…