If I was to call this the Top 10, I'd have to enclose the 10 in quotes, because I'm such a shameless, pathetic cheater. It's not really 10, it's really 15. And it's not really 15, it's actually 18, 'cause of the ties. There was so much great music this year that it was the hardest year-end list I've yet done. You'll do well to pick up these albums if you haven't already.
The rankings are pretty meaningless -- let's say that 11-15 are a tie for third-favorite, 4-10 are a tie for second favorite, and 1-3 a tie for favorite.
If you like, you can also check out last year's Best of 1996 and the Best of 1995 listing as well.
New this year! We've made it easy for you to buy all these CDs online, through cdnow.com, the world's largest online CD store. Yeah, yeah, commercialism, Chuck's selling out, blah blah blah. For what I make from this I could eat a handful of red beans in a month, but it helps defray the cost of running this site. Besides, you get to buy easily, online, right here, at a savings of up to 30%. Such a deal! To buy any of the CDs listed here, just click on the [Buy this record!] link at the end of each description. Any record not available through cdnow.com will have ordering information.
Okay, here we go ...
Best Reissues and Compilations
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - African Troubadours: The Best of African Singer-Songwriters (Shanachie)
- Contrary to popular belief, African music isn't just dance music. Here's a terrific collection of songs sung by their writers, generally acoustic, from all over Africa. An eye-opener. [Buy this record!]
- BEAUSOLEIL - Arc de Triomphe Two-Step (EMI)
- Beausoleil's very first album, originally entitled La Nuit, was released only in France in 1976. It was really a slightly different version of Coteau, playing all traditional music and even a few tunes that Coteau had in their repertoire, but it was the very first album Michael Doucet made under this band's name. Complete your Beausoleil collection! [Buy this record!]
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - Celtic Mouth Music (Ellipsis Arts)
- Lilting, turlutte, puirt a beul, mouth music ... whatever you call it, it's instrumental dance music without instruments, vocal music made for dancing, often to nonsense syllables. It's a strong tradition in the Celtic nations, as well as Acadiana, French Canada and the Appalachians. This fascinating collection, which in Ellipsis Arts' usual superb manner includes a 62-page booklet, covers all these traditions. Lots o' fun. Diddley-aye! [Buy this record!]
- JELLY ROLL MORTON - The Last Sessions (Commodore)
- Thirteen tracks recorded in 1939, and then there was no more ... One of New Orleans' all-time greats, with ragtime, jazz and blues. If you've never heard Jelly Roll's music, this one's a good one to start with. [Buy this record!]
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Rose Grew Round the Briar Patch, Volumes 1 and 2(Yazoo)
- A nifty collection of early American rural love songs, remastered from ancient 78s. Compare the version of "George Collins" here to the one Cordelia's Dad does. [Buy Volume One!], and [Buy Volume Two!]
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - Sult: Spirit of the Music (Bottom Line)
- Under the direction of Donal Lunny, this marvelous collection was taken from the soundtrack of the 13-part musical television series commissioned for the inauguration of Telefis na Gaeilge, the all-Irish language television station in Ireland. Featuring Lunny and the Sult house band, Sharon Shannon, Máire Brennan from Clannad, Matt Molloy from The Chieftains, Nomos, Paul Brady, Liam O'Flynn among others ... and Van Morrison backed by traditional musicians in the greatest version of "St. Dominic's Preview" ever. Available from The Bottom Line Record Company, email BlineRecs@aol.com
- WOODY GUTHRIE - This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1, and Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 (Smithsonian-Folkways)
- Remastered and reissued from the original Folkways recordings by label owner Moses Asch, these are marvelous songs, and incomparable examples of Woody's impact on American music and culture. A great introduction to his music, if you're only familiar with the title track. [Buy Volume One!], and [Buy Volume Two!]
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - Times Ain't Like They Used to Be, Volumes 1 and 2 (Yazoo)
- More in the wonderful Yazoo series of remastered 78s of early rural American music, this time concentrating on ballads. With the above volumes, essential for anyone interested in American traditional music. [Buy Volume One!], and [Buy Volume Two!]
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - A Treasury of Library of Congress Recordings (Rounder)
- More wonderful reissues from Rounder ... this widely varied collection spans the U.S., with 30-odd tracks in a variety of styles, all from field recordings made by Library of Congress folklorists. [Buy this record!]
Top Two Reissues of the Year
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - Southern Journeys series (Rounder)
- This ambitious series of releases by Rounder began this year, issuing innumerable recordings collected over the years by folklorist Alan Lomax. There'll be several releases a year, and the entire series will finally include dozens of CDs. See the Rounder Records Alan Lomax Page.
- VARIOUS ARTISTS - Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian/Folkways)
- It's been a great year for reissues of American traditional music, and the crown jewel among them all is this astonishing work. Originally issued by Folkways in 1952, and compiled by Harry Smith, this is a remarkable collection of the state of American folk music as it existed on record between 1927 and 1932. Six CDs, organized into three 2-disc sets entitled, "Ballads", "Social Music" and "Songs". This towers over all other folk music reissues of this year and for the last few decades. [Buy this boxed set ... on sale, 30% off!]
Or ... a multi-way tie for my fourth-favorite record of the year. Works better for me that way. I hate rankings, even though I'm about to make some a little bit further down.
I've been getting some requests to put this list up on the web, as I've admittedly been procrastinating somewhat. So not all of them will have capsule reviews or comments just yet. Here's the list, anyway ...
Okay, and now ...
- ZABE I BABE - Drumovi (Bison)
- ZHAH-beh ee BAH-beh, meaning "frogs and grandmothers", a Serbo-Croatian phrase meaning the same as "apples and oranges". Bosnian-American folk-pop, some hardcore traditional unaccompanied Balkan singing, plus a Macedonian Gypsy band equals some great music. Tim Eriksen and Peter Irvine from Cordelia's Dad are in this band, along with vocalist Mirjana Lausevic and others, and they rock -- whether putting Bosnian tunes to electric guitars or singing traditional songs that'll give you chills. Highly recommended. [Buy this record!]
- THE WILD MAGNOLIAS - 1313 Hoodoo Street (AIM)
- Indians, here dey come! The latest by Big Chief Bo Dollis and his tribe defines funk while it continues to bring forth the fascination traditions of the black Indians of New Orleans. This one was recorded for an Australian label, oddly enough. Who cares where it comes from, though ... anything by Chief Dollis and his tribe is more than welcome. Migh-TAYYYY coo-dee fi-yooooo ...
- the subdudes - Live at Last (High Street)
- The late, great, lamented folk-roots-funk-pop band gives us one last blast live. Two of the former 'dudes are now in the band Tiny Town in New Orleans, so check them out. For your last subdudes show, check this out. [Buy this record!]
- 6 STRING DRAG - High Hat (E Squared)
- This North Carolina band is all over the map on this record, from rock to gospel to soul to pop and lots in between. Loads of fun. [Buy this record!]
- SHARON SHANNON - Each Little Thing (Green Linnet)
- Third solo album by the Galway accordionist and her bandmates. She's stretching her wings here, bringing us Irish traditional tunes done in the traditional style as well as to hip-hop beats, and plays an Astor Piazzola tango with sultry vocals by Kirsty MacColl. Wild and fun. [Buy this record!]
- MEM SHANNON - The Second Blues Album (Hannibal)
- Mem Shannon doesn't have to drive a cab anymore. After driving a hack for years in the French Quarter, he was finally able to quit his day job after the success of his debut album, Cab Driver's Blues in 1995, and puts out a fine, solid second effort. [Buy this record!]
- THE SAVOY-SMITH CAJUN BAND - Now and Then (Arhoolie)
- Usually this band is the Savoy-Doucet Cajun band, playing extremely traditional Cajun music and playing it better than pretty much everyone else. This time around Michael Doucet was so busy with Beausoleil that he wasn't able to record, and ace Cajun fiddler Ken Smith stepped in with Marc and Ann Savoy for this dynamite record of old Cajun songs and tunes. Excellent. [Buy this record!]
- PAUL SANCHEZ - Loose Parts (Paul Sanchez Music)
- Third acoustic solo album from Cowboy Mouth singer-songwriter-guitarist Sanchez, whose songs are well-beloved by New Orleanians. Listen to these gems and see why. [Order from The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, (504) 586-1094]
- POI DOG PONDERING - Liquid White Light (plate tec tonic)
- Poi NRG! This most ebullient and joyous of bands has finally put out a live disc, two of 'em in fact, and it's a delight from beginning to end. If you can't find it in your local record shop, it's entirely worth the minor trouble of mail-ordering it from the address below. Highly recommended! [Mail-order info for the disc is on the Poi Dog Pondering Web Site]
- OLD 97S - Too Far to Care (Elektra)
- Rip-roarin' cowpunk, alt.country, insurgent country, or whatever dopey label you want to apply. This is one great, butt-kickin' band, outta Dallas, TX. Fronted by singer and songwriter Rhett Miller, they're a guaranteed good time. [Buy this record!]
- OLD BLIND DOGS - Five (Lochshore)
- The logically-named fifth album from this Scottish folk/trad band also is their first with a new fifth member, piper/saxophonist Fraser Fifield, and he most certainly kicks things up a notch or two. Great instrumentals, including some more Eastern-influences tunes, in addition to strong vocals from Ian F. Benzie. [Buy this record!]
- IARLA Ó LIONAIRD - Seven Steps to Mercy / Seacht gCoiscéam na Trocaire (Real World)
- Ó Lionaird is a traditional singer of Irish Gaelic song, in the sean-nos, or old-style tradition. Here he beautifully blends ancient song with modern production, quite hauntingly and tastefully done, for a powerful, moving record. Produced by Michael Brook. [Buy this record!]
- THE NEW ORLEANS KLEZMER ALL-STARS - The Big Kibosh (Shanachnie)
- Klezmer is the traditional wedding and dance music of Eastern European Jews. These are New Orleanian Jews, however, so the klez has funk! Traditional and original klezmer meets New Orleans grooves, jazz and funk, and the result is a joy to behold. These guys are a blast live! [Buy this record!]
- NATHAN & THE ZYDECO CHA-CHAS - I'm A Zydeco Hog: Live at the Rock 'n Bowl (Rounder)
- One of zydeco's hottest, caught live at Mid City Lanes Rock 'n Bowl, New Orleans' premier zydeco venue. Put this record on, set up some pins in your hallway, dance and bowl, and you can recreate a bit of the Rock 'n Bowl's ambience in your very own home! [Buy this record!]
- JOHN MOONEY - Dealin' With the Devil (PGD/RUF)
- A German import, recorded live in Bremen, Germany in 1995, this shows Mooney at the height of his powers, with wildman vocals and blazing blues guitar. A must for fans, and for any New Orleans blues-o-phile. [Buy this record!]
- MÁRTA SEBESTYÉN and MUSZIKÁS - Morning Star (Hannibal)
- Muszikás is a brilliant band, and Márta Sebestyén is a brilliant singer. This new collection of songs and tunes from Hungary to Siberia features many never before recorded, and which have been featured in their concerts for the past few years. [Buy this record![
- JAKE KRACK - How 'Bout That! (Wisekrack Records)
- One of the finest albums of oldtime music this year came from Jake Krack, which is amazing considering that Jake was 11 years old when he recorded it. A protegé of Brad Leftwich and Melvin Wine, Jake's an astonishing player for someone so young. He's not just copying his teachers, either -- he feels the music. I can only imagine what the coming years will bring. [Order this independent release directly from Jake and his folks, at Wisekrack Records, (812) 876-6656]
- JONES AND LEVA - Light Enough to Find My Way (Rounder)
- All original material, from a performing couple well-versed in country and oldtime music. Gorgeous singing and playing. [Buy this record!]
- HEDNINGARNA - Hippjokk (Northside)
- Mind-blowing stuff. Ancient traditional Swedish tunes meet turn-of-the-21st-Century electronics and dance grooves, and it works. Get it. [Buy this record!]
- AUBREY HAYNIE - Doin' My Time (Sugar Hill)
- Another tough decision ... this nearly ended up in a 3-way tie with the two other great bluegrass albums I heard this year, but the ties were getting ridiculous. Still, it's a marvelous album of original and traditional bluegrass, marvelous fiddling and mandolin picking, and some damn sweet tunes. [Buy this record!
- MARTIN HAYES and DENNIS CAHILL - (Green Linnet)
- Lovely, lyrical, brilliant Irish music. Hayes is a fiddler from east Clare, who plays in an older style he learned from older musicians in the area. Cahill is an accomplished guitarist who's been accompanying Hayes for a few years now. This is their first album together, and it's wonderful; don't be fooled into think it's all laid-back -- it'll sneak up on you. [Buy this record!]
- RÉGIS GIZAVO - Mikea (Shanachie)
- Some of the most amazing accordion playing you'll ever hear. In some regions of Madagascar, the accordion is used as a trance-inducing instrument, in addition to playing dance music, and Gizavo is one of the best. Amazing. [Buy this record!]
- ROBBIE FULKS - South Mouth (Bloodshot)
- Fulks is a terrific songwriter, and plays country music from the heart and the bone, not from Nashville (his song "Fuck This Town" is a fair indicator of his opinions on the place). This is his last indie album; let's hope the majors let him do his own thing. Great stuff. [Buy this record!]
- KEITH FRANK - (Maison de Soul)
- One of the shining stars of the young zydeco scene that was trailblazed by Beau Jocque, Frank delivers his most satisfying record to date, which'll keep you dancing non-stop. [Order from The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, (504) 586-1094]
- STEVE EARLE - El Corazon (E Squared)
- Yeah, it shoulda been in the Top 10, but you have to make stupid arbitrary choices sometime. This is certainly one of the very finest albums of the year, with Earle's sincere ragged-edge, spot-on delivery of songs ranging from all-out rockers to country to bluegrass (the Del McCoury Band guests), to the album's opener, "Christmas in Washington", a terrific, gentle, political folk ballad that invokes Woody Guthrie and is worthy of Woody's pen. Highly recommended. [Buy this record!]
- SNOOKS EAGLIN - Live in Japan (Bullseye)
- Produced by funky Meter and Runnin' Pardner George Porter Jr., this New Orleans blues guitar icon sizzles before a live audience, in one of his best releases ever. This one generated a LOT of listener calls and requests. [Buy this record!]
- DOC CHEATHAM and NICHOLAS PAYTON
- One of the all-time greats of traditional jazz, nonagenarian trumpeter Cheatham, joins the twentysomething trumpeter Payton in a fabulous collaboration, playing standards of trad jazz. Unfortunately, Cheatham passed away last year, but his legacy lives on through musicians like Payton, and through this crowning final recording. [Buy this record!]
- KARAN CASEY - Songlines (Shanachie)
- Debut solo album from the immensely talented singer from Solas. Her voice will melt your heart. Highly recommended. [Buy this record!]
- JIMMY BREAUX - Le Chemin que T'as Pris (La Louisianne)
- The second solo release from Beausoleil's accordionist, featuring vocals and pedal steel from his father-in-law U. J. Meaux. This is Cajun dance band music as good as it gets, solidly traditional and great danceable fun. [Order from The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, (504) 586-1094]
- THE BOTTLE ROCKETS - 24 Hours a Day (Atlantic)
- Butt-kickin' countryrocknroll. Brian Henneman and company's third release, and the boys from Festus open it up, rocking even harder than last time. Songwriting is top-notch. Have fun. [Buy this record!]
- BLUE MOUNTAIN - Homegrown (Roadrunner)
- Second release from this Oxford, Mississippi grout, yet another of my favorite alt.country/country-rock/whatever bands ... they just make great music, whether they're in quiet mode or rocking out. Cary and Laurie and Frank done good yet again. [Buy this record!]
- THE BLAZERS - Just For You (Rounder)
- Los Lobos isn't the only band from East L.A., ya know! These guys have been at it for almost as long, and on their third Rounder album offer rollickin' Latin-tinged rock'n roll, blues, country and full-on norteños and cumbias. This one also generated lots of listener responses. [Buy this record!]
- BATTLEFIELD BAND - Across the Border (Temple)
- Since their last big lineup change 5 years ago, Batties fans have been clamoring for a live album featuring the new guys, astonishingly talented multi-instrumentalist John McCusker (who joined the band at age 18), and piper Iain MacDonald. Here it is, and it's a winner. It stands as a final document of this lineup as well, as longtime singer-guitarist Alastair Russell has left the band, to be replaced by ex-Ceolbeg Davy Steele, and piper Mike Katz ... more great things to come! [Buy this record!]
- MARCIA BALL - Let Me Play With Your Poodle (Rounder)
- Slidell-born, Austin-based New Orleans piano princess knocks out yet another one, and it's loads of fun. She's wildly popular back home in N.O., and if you haven't heard her, see why here. There are several number's that'll get you dancin', plus an achingly gorgeous cover of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." Play with her poodle. [Buy this record!]
- THE BACKSLIDERS - Throwing Rocks At The Moon (Mammoth)
- Backsliders World Domination Now! [Buy this record!]
THE TOP "15"
- 15. RED MEAT - Meet Red Meat (Ranchero)
- High-cholesterol honky-tonk. This San Francisco-based band, led by songwriter and vocalist Scott Young, has a wonderful self-deprecating touch to their lyrics, but they have extremely solid country music chops. Also featuring the vocal stylings of the inimitable Smelley Kelley, and three former members of The Movie Stars! An instant-like band. [Buy this record!]
- 14. CHRIS ARDOIN AND DOUBLE CLUTCHIN' - Gon' Be Jus' Fine (Rounder)
- 16-year-old Chris is the fourth generation of the Ardoin family to bring great Creole and zydeco music to our eager ears and restless feet. Along with his older brother Sean, he plays zydeco that is very very modern yet true to its roots. [Buy this record!]
- 13. TARIKA - Son Egal (Xenophile)
- Malagasy music is wonderful, and this band, an offshoot of Tarika Sammy, continues to impress. This record was made with the participation of several Senegalese musicians, and it's both a politica reconciliation as well as a marvelous musical collaboration -- Senegalese troops occupied Madagascar 50 years ago when it was a "rebellious" French colony. [Buy this record!]
- 12. DR. JOHN - Trippin' Live (Surefire)
- Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John da Night Tripper, finally brings us a full-length, official live album of his funkalicious New Orleans piano, backed up with a ragin' band which unfortuanately no longer tours with him. Listen to this and hear why he's the best. [Buy this record!]
- 11. ALTAN - Runaway Sunday (Virgin)
- Altan's second on a major label, and a solid, lovely bunch of music it is. Mairéd Ní Mhaonaigh's gorgeous, delicate voice intersperses driving instrumental sets with songs in both Irish and English. [Buy this record!]
- 10. RICKY SKAGGS - Bluegrass Rules! (Rounder/Skaggs Family)
- Ricky Skaggs returns to his roots with an absolute knockout of a bluegrass album. Just when you might have thought that he was a Nashville country functionary, he shows you what he's capable of, and that he is a brilliant musician. It was very, very difficult to pick just one great bluegrass album this year, so this spot tied with the one below. [Buy this record!]
- (tie) JASON CARTER - On The Move (Rounder)
- Jason's still fairly young, only 24, and since he was 19 has been the fiddler with the mighty Del McCoury Band. On his first solo effort, he assembles a fine cast of musicians and delights us with soaring tunes, and a couple of sweet songs. [Buy this record!]
- 9. VÄSEN - Whirled (Northside), and Spirit (Northside)
- This is a tie too, sort of. Väsen began as a trio, playing both original and traditional Swedish folk music, featuring a lovely, haunting instrument called the nyckelharpa. They released two albums this year on the new Scandinavian music label Northside, and they're both great. Spirit is a compilation from three earlier Swedish-only releases, and Whirled is a new recording, with the addition of a fourth member on percussion. If you've never heard Swedish tradidional music before, you can't go wrong with this. "Josefins Dopvals", from Spirit, is perhaps the most beautiful single piece of music I've heard all year. [Buy Spirit], and/or [Buy Whirled]
- 8. SON VOLT - Straightaways (Warner)
- Jay Farrar might not be breaking large amounts of new ground, but he's the best at what he does -- writing great songs, both in the country and alt.country rock medium. As before, he alternates from crashing guitars to delicate songs that'll bring a tear to your eye, and that rich, timeless voice of his is still spot-on. Smashing stuff. [Buy this record!]
- 7. STEVE RILEY AND THE MAMOU PLAYBOYS - Friday at Last (Swallow)
- Great, great traditional Cajun music, and great, great modern Cajun music. You will not be able to stop dancing. Steve Riley is at the forefront of young Cajun bands here on the verge of the new century and new milennium, and who better to help carry Cajun music over? His reverence for the great musicians of old is obvious in his playing and singing, and his band has the drive and energy that'd rival any would-be rock band. Fantastic. [Order from The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, (504) 586-1094]
- (tie) BEAUSOLEIL - L'amour ou la Folie (Rhino)
- See, you see how hard this is? How can I rank stuff like this? Every time Beausoleil makes an album, it's brilliant. This record marks the band's 20th anniversary, and they've loaded up with special guests. It's the time-honored mix of original compositions and traditional material, always interesting, always danceable, and always with impeccable musicianship. [Buy this record!]
- 6. DERVISH - At the End of the Day (Kells)
- This record blew me away. Dervish are from Sligo in the northwest of Ireland, play unbelievably fiery instrumental sets, and have a terrific vocalist in Cathy Jordan. Dervish have also become friends with the Swedish band Väsen, and have covered the beautiful tune "Josefin's Waltz", so we got a double dose of that gorgeous tune this year. Of all the great Irish records put out this year, this one was the best, with the possible exception of the one below, with which it tied for this position. [Buy this record!]
- (tie) SOLAS - Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers (Shanachie)
- Solas made it to #1 on this listing with their eponymous debut album last year, and their sophmore effort does not fail to satisfy. Disgustingly talented, virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Séamus Egan, stunning vocalist Karan Casey and company offer quite a few songs this time out, and some instrumental sets that'll blow you away as well. [Buy this record!]
- 5. RICHARD BUCKNER - Devotion + Doubt (MCA)
- Buckner's a singer-songwriter par excellence. There aren't a whole hell of a lot of singer/songwriters who make it onto my program, not to mention this list, but Buckner's writing and singing are impeccable, emotional, affecting. Be sure to see him live if you can. [Buy this record!]
- 4. DWIGHT DILLER - Harvest: W. Virginia Mountain Music (self-released)
- Cordelia's Dad turned me on to this man, and I'm forever grateful to them for it (among other things, ehheh.) Dwight's a singer, fiddler and banjo player, and for many years has been playing the traditional oldtime mountain music from his region of West Virginia. He knows some amazing, beautiful tunes, and sings great songs, both secular and religious, and is joined by a few excellent musicians on this first full-length CD release (a compendium of tracks from his six cassettes, plus some new tracks), including the terrific young fiddler Jimmy Triplett. The tune "Waynesboro" has hardly left my head since I first heard it on this record.
Okay kids, you know how our game is played ...
The Top Three
At one point or another all three of these albums have been my favorite of the year, depending on my mood at the time. I only rank them based on the number of "Where can I buy that?!" calls that they generated when I played them on the air -- perhaps the only reason Coteau was ranked third in this manner was that I announced that it was on a domestic label and relatively easy to find, whereas the others are Canadian imports (and even hard to find in anglophone Canada). It's also kinda neat, I think, that it's an all-French top three this year. All of these albums are brilliant. If you don't buy any others from this list, buy these. Two of 'em will require a little extra effort. Make the effort.
- 3. COTEAU - Highly Seasoned Cajun Music (Rounder)
- Coteau broke up in 1977, and 20 years later finally got around to making an album. Believe me, it was worth the wait. This was the band Michael Doucet was in before he formed BeauSoleil, and this band got lots and lots of young people back into the Cajun dance halls, with its exciting blend of Cajun and roots music, bringing in New Orleans R&B, country and even reggae into the mix. They were a widely diverse group of musicians, and the whole exceeds the sum of its quite considerable parts. Vocals are shared among several members, Doucet's fiddle soars, guitar from Bruce MacDonald and Tommy Comeaux (who fills in for the late Dana Breaux) sizzles, Bessyl Duhon's accordion always keeps it Cajun. Absolutely marvelous. Sadly, this was to be Tommy Comeaux's last record, as he was tragically killed in November of 1997. Along with the rest of his monumental body of work playing with numerous bands, this terrific, terrific record stands as a perfect tribute. [Buy this record!]
- 2. ZACHARY RICHARD - Cap Enragé (Initial)
- The best album Zack has ever done, period. Made for a French Canadian audience (he's big up there), and released only in Canada, this is a collection of mostly original songs and ballads, and not so much Cajun but Acadian, both in sound and feel and subject matter. His singing and writing and tunes have never been more beautiful; along with Väsen;s "Josefin's Waltz", Zack's songs "Au Bord de Lac Bijou" and "Au Paradis Avec Toi" tie for the most beautiful tunes I've heard all year. You can try ordering from The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, (504) 586-1094, or write to Zachary Richard directly at P. O. Box 456, Scott, LA 70583.
- 1. LA BOTTINE SOURIANTE - en spectacle (Les Disques Milles Pattes)
- Instant Happy Music. La Bottine Souriante ("The Smiling Boot") have always been a favorite of mine, and unfortunately their last few albums have been extremely difficult to find. In fact, I couldn't find any even in Anglophone Canada, on a trip to Saskatchewan last year. Finally, I found their last two, La Mistrine, and this one. Even though it was a 1996 release in Québec, it didn't get to me until '97, making it a '97 release in my book. It blew me completely away.
It's a live recording, and a celebration of their 20th anniversary, going back through two decades of tune and song. Québecois traditional music often seems like Cajun music and Irish music, fused at the molecular-genetic level; there are influences from both Acadian music and from the Scottish and Irish immigrants to Canada in the tunes. There's also a very distinctive call-and-response style to many of the songs (with built-in sing-along potential), as well as the unmistakeable percussive accompaniment of les pieds, a particular style of rhythmic foot-tapping used as accompanying percussion that looks easy ... until you try it.
A few albums ago, La Bottine added a few new members to their core of traditional musicians -- some fellow Québecois who were primarily jazz musicians. This made the perfect blend in the latest evolution of their sound -- a sound both extremely modern and different and true to the tradition of the music. Everyone who hears this CD loves it instantly. In fact, one friend of mine, after hearing it, sent away to Montréal and ordered the band's entire CD catalog! They're that good. You will love this album. It's nearly impossible to find in the States, but my friends, my listeners and I have had good luck mail-ordering it and other La Bottine stuff from a record store in Montréal called Cheap Thrills Music; their inventory is on their web site and you can order from there, or you can phone (514) 844-8988. Do it! Do it! Do it!
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)