I developed a taste for Louisiana's Cajun music pretty early on in life when I attended a concert by the Balfa Brothers. The band, fronted by Dewey Balfa totally charmed me with their personal warmth and humor. The music was equally endearing; a sincere mix of sweet melodies and great dance tunes. And I had never heard a triangle actually played seriously...after all that is the instrument every kindergarten child plays at some point or another, and never well. I bought their first LP (yes, it was very long ago) on Swallow Records and subsequently played it over and over again. I didn't realize at the time that the Balfa Brothers were pioneers, having raised the denigrated profile of the Cajun heritage to a prideful place.
What I heard back then was the informal "front porch" music of the Cajuns, and Steve Riley and his band play a hard driving modern hybrid by comparison. The lineup includes drums, electric bass and guitar, and the music is laced with zydeco, (itself an African-American hybrid) and swamp pop right alongside the more traditionally based Cajun repertoire. Front and center is Riley, a wonderfully soulful accordionist, writer and singer.
So I wasn't going to miss out when they came to town to play at Connolly's, in New York City before moving on to a Mardi Gras concert in Rhode Island.
It wasn't an easy video setup, because this was not a concert in a hall, it was a dance in a bar, and the floor was PACKED. The event drew people of all ages and stripes and it was a pleasure to see them gliding through the waltzes and two steps. There was also a quick lesson on the styles preceding the concert, for the uninitiated. It was raucous, unselfconscious, dizzy fun. I was standing up on a chair in front of the sound board, trying to get a good sight line over a sea of bobbing heads. Presiding over all, Riley and his band kept everyone moving. Not surprising, since they have been playing Cajun dance halls for years back home, where the culture is still going strong.
I start the video off with "Lyons Point" from the band's new CD "Grand Isle." It opens with just fiddle (David Greely, in one of his last performances with the band), accordion and triangle; something akin to what I heard the Balfa Brothers play way back when, before the band kicks in for a solid two-step. They segue right into the rocking "House with Two Doors" by swamp pop's Johnny Allan. (His full name was Johnny Allan Guillot, but as Greely says, "the French name was an unpronounceable burden for a rock and roller in the 50's.") Electric guitarist Sam Broussard really stretches out on this one; he's a terrific player.
The event was presented by Let's Zydeco, a local group that holds dances regularly at Connolly's, which by the way has a spacious sprung wood dance floor. (For more information go to Let'sZydeco.com)
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