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A Not Bad Guide To Cajun Music,
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This review is from: The Essential Guide to Cajun Music (Audio CD)
Up to now, I've yet to find a music sampler which is truly the Essential Guide to anything, and with that qualification out of the way, I can at least say that this collection is A Not Bad Guide To Cajun Music, which also takes on board the broad continuum that exists between Cajun and zydeco.
The difference between the two styles was summed up for me by an assistant in the Louisiana Music Factory, a music store on Decatur in New Orleans, as: Cajun folky, with accordion, fiddle and French; zydeco bluesy, with accordion, washboard and English.
The two are well-represented on this collection by, respectively, The Balfa Brothers and Clifton Chenier. In fact, if all that was needed was a Definitive Guide To Cajun and Zydeco then maybe we could stamp Job Done on the backside of the box on the basis of these two. Mostly, though, it's about Cajun.
The collection gives historical depth with recordings by The Hackberry Ramblers with a version of the Cajun national anthem, Jolie Blonde, from 1936; Harry Choates, whose own version of the anthem (not included here) is reckoned to be about the best, and who died in an Austin jail in 1951 aged just 29; and Balfa Toujours, led by Christine Balfa, the daughter of Dewey Balfa, leader of the Balfa Brothers and widely recognised as the leader of the Cajun revival following WWII.
Also present are younger bands such as BeauSoleil, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and one of my personal favourites, Lost Bayou Ramblers (check out 2012's Mammoth Waltz), who for some reason though have been included on the Pioneers CD.
And Jo-El Sonnier deserves a mention, too, if for nothing else having guested for Emmylou Harris on the track Cajun Born on Elite Hotel.
Some of the tracks don't work for me, but it'd be churlish to complain about such a well-priced collection of 42 songs. Similarly, the photos on the box mostly conjure up the Cajun backdrop, with swamps, bayous and gators, but where'd the banjo come from? Not an instrument I remember seeing at all in two days at the 2012 Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette. But there was plenty of dancing, and it's always worth remembering that this is, first and foremost, dance music.