From Bamako to Carencro
(Compass, 2013)

(independent, 2012)

In the 37th year of its existence, documented by (with the current release) 25 albums, BeauSoleil has won every award and plaudit a folk band can receive. That being the case, I doubt there's anything substantive I can add, except to offer the banal observation that From Bamako to Carencro is a work of consistent excellence and unbounded creativity. It also may be the best album I've heard so far this year. In short, folks, nothing shocking to report.

Based in southwestern Louisiana, BeauSoleil draws its sound from the Cajun fiddling tradition and then attaches compatible sounds to its not quite standard instrumental lineup, which is to say that button accordion makes only two appearances and the player (Jessie Lege) is a guest, not a regular. The Doucet brothers, Michael (fiddle, mandolin, vocals) and David (guitar, vocals), lead the enterprise, capably assisted by Mitchell Reed (banjo, fiddle, bass), Billy Ware (percussion) and Tommy Alesi (drums).

Bamako is a city in Mali, Carencro a suburb of Lafayette, La. Each municipality gets a composition of its own. "Bamako" is written by jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd, and the latter is a Michael Doucet composition. There are also bows to old-time Cajun fiddling masters Dennis McGee ("Guilbeau Pelican & Napoleon's Reel") and Conray Fontenot ("Les Barres De La Prison") and, on the other side of the spectrum, Cajunized versions of traditional African-American sacred music ("You Got to Move") and 1960s soul (James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy"). A particular favorite of mine is the tuneful "La Douceur (The Sweetness)," a Caribbean folk melody from which, Michael Doucet notes, "many Louisiana Creole songs ... have branched out."

All of the above are performed with unerring -- and by now entirely predictable -- technical proficiency and emotional truth. From Bamako to Carencro is so musically rich that even after repeated visits to my CD player it feels inexhaustible.

"Cajun" began as "Acadian," to denote the French-speaking people caught up in the upheavals of the 18th-century Seven Years' War (known as the French & Indian War to North Americans). The British deported the Acadians, many of whom after innumerable hardships ended up in Louisiana's southwestern corner, while others remain to this day in such eastern Canadian provinces as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

Consisting of three members -- sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc along with Pascal Miousse -- Vishten perpetuates the Acadian tradition in full arrangements clearly inspired by the Scottish and Irish ensembles of recent decades. The LeBlancs populate the arrangements with flutes, whistles, piano, accordion, jaw harp and synthesizers, blending the archaic with the contemporary while remaining true in spirit to the music that inspired them. As their airy harmony singing delivers aural pleasure, Miousse lays down commanding fiddle and mandolin.

The songs and tunes are mostly original but based in older ballad and fiddle styles. Before wrenching history intervened, this was -- at least broadly speaking -- what French-American music sounded like. Aside from all that background detail, Vishten is easily appreciated as an exciting band with something distinctive to offer.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 May 2013

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