various artists,
The Best of Cajun & Zydeco: Homebrew
(ARC, 2003)

Calling a collection "best of" is sure to open it up to criticism, especially with such homegrown musical fare as Cajun and zydeco. Every serious fan of the genre is sure to have a favorite band or five that didn't make the cut. But after even one listen, it's hard to deny that ARC's The Best of Cajun & Zydeco: Homebrew at least offers some of the best available, and a stomping good time all the way.

While Cajun and zydeco offer music from the heartbreaking to the wild, Homebrew focuses on the party music. With few exceptions, these are songs made for dancing, and the album opens strong with Michael Doucet's "Les Veuves de la Coulee." Buoyant fiddling and wry guitar swing along a song that doesn't require a knowledge of French to be understood. Indeed, it's a good thing all the musicians are so good at making their meaning clear in tone and melody, because the album is almost unrelentingly performed in French. But little common language is needed to understand the goading of the accordion in the "Bayou Chene Waltz," or Rosie Ledet's lively spirit in "Lover None Helaire." The few slower tunes, like the grieving "The Strings of Your Heart" or the plain, grassy "J'ai Pleurer" are well worth a listen, but sadly overshadowed by the triumphant bombast of the bulk of the album. It takes the bright fiddle of the "Hackberry Hop" or Rockin' Sidney's energy in "Go Chere Go" to compete with the polished dance beat of "Little Cajun Girl." The invigorating strings of the Magnolia Sisters as they belt out "Hippie Taiaut" pair well with Charivari's beat-driven "Femmes," but leave Courtney Granger's lovely "Depuis l'age de quinze ans" a bit overwhelmed. Happily, the subtler tunes gain from a repeated listening, and it's a good bet this CD will get them.

Does it all add up to the best Cajun and zydeco have to offer? That's up for debate, but every listener will have a fine time hearing out the argument.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 24 July 2004