Gitane Cajun (Vanguard Records, 2004). CD
by Susan Budig.
Gitane Cajun pulls the listener to her feet, twirling like a true hummer, swinging round for dear life. After a few practical dance numbers, all Cajun colored, we go for a quick, tuneful romp in the hay as Michael Doucet nibbles our ears with La flèche d’amour. We come up gasping with a Lawrence Walker song, Lena Mae, sung by David Doucet.
Although the competition is fierce, passing by love’s misfortune as well as side splitting fun, track #10 culminates in one of the very best tunes not only on this disc, but also of the whole Cajun genre. I’ll even stick my neck out and say Me and Dennis McGee rates as one of the most superb songs ever. It elicits the same absolute joy that I find in Tasso/McGee’s Reel. Les fleurs fleurissent, offers an extraordinarily beautiful song. If this were the only song on the CD, I’d be more than satisfied. Michael’s fiddle plays out the warmest, deepest double stops I’ve ever heard; that, or there is an uncredited cello accompaniment. The song brims with a rich, saturating tone using the sparest of instruments: fiddle, cello, and Billy Ware’s impeccably steady triangle. The bittersweet, delicate melody line, just under forty notes, moves the listener into the world of a condemned lover saying good-bye to his beloved, futilely trying to assuage the pain. The eight lines of lyric bleed my heart with its sorrow. The tune, alone, enchants me with its simple, unbroken power.
That last song had me reduced to a quivering mess of emotion and there is no easy segue, or even enough empty space before the next number, which teases a primal urge rather different than broken heartedness.
In a live performance, there is opportunity for a bit of a lull, a joke, or a visual break. Not so on a disc, and therein lies its limitation.
It’s quite a jolt to move from a blue tale to a red-hot poker, but that is what happens when we hear, Le soleil brille. In this piece,
BeauSoleil sounds like French bodybuilding hottie, David Dahan looks. But make no mistake, the gray haired and no haired gents of BeauSoleil have the moves, hum, and hearts of their youth, with same driving spirit of 29 years ago, when the band commenced.
On the shirttails of that lascivious song, we hear a tribute to masterful accordionist, Boozoo Chavis.
I love the last note of Bye, Bye Boozoo, produced by Ware produced by Ware running his scraper across the
rubboard, suggestive of Boozoo, clowning around as usual, blowing us all a raspberry. Guess the salty musician got the last laugh.
Cindy Cashdollar guests on several numbers with her slide guitars.
Tu m’as fait rire combines Cajun tune with a bit of player piano-soft shoe sound, courtesy of Cashdollar and David Egan. More Cajun gems finish the album off, but I have a qualm with one of the decidedly non-Cajun songs.
Windhorse Eyes, an original by Doucet, comes off as something I’d expect to hear at the beginning of a Hallmark Valentine made-for-TV special. There are many excellent elements—Rushad Eggleston’s cello, Doucet’s butter-smooth voice, and an intimate look into the artist’s private life as brought out with references to Buddhism—but the overall effect is too syrupy to digest. I’d rewrite the lyrics and maybe add Anger (Darol) to the musical mix for a little edginess.
My minor complaints aside, I found this album extraordinary. While staying true to the traditions of Cajun music, BeauSoleil and Michael Doucet flavor many cuts with the spices of other genres, ethnicities, and contemporary adornment. The outstanding and original song, Me and Dennis McGee, typifies the blissful collection of songs within
Gitane Cajun. Listening to this album makes a body happy to be alive.