Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ROW: Gaspard/ Lachney/ J. Bertrand - Early American Cajun Music (Yazoo)

As with its younger cousin zydeco, Cajun music isn’t normally known for introspection and restraint. Raucous house parties and rural picnics have long been customary settings for raw and unbridled expressions of the idiom. Ballads occupy an important part of the songbook, but passionate, heart-on-sleeve delivery routinely trumps turns toward a softer touch. This Yazoo compilation shines an edifying light on an atypical niche in the music through the rarified works of three early purveyors from Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. Blind Uncle Gaspard, the most overtly haunting of the three, sings songs with a nasalized croon in his native Acadian French, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and occasionally interjecting whistling refrains. Tracks like “Sur Le Borde De L’Eau" (“On the Water’s Edge”) and “Assi Dans La Fenetre De Ma Chambre" (Sitting In the Window of My Room”) exude gravitas comparable to the best of Pre-War Delta blues and are just as memorable. Gaspard was a colleague of fiddler Delma Lachney and he plays rhythm guitar on the Lachney selections. Accomplished accordionist John Bertrand, the last in the highlighted trio, traveled in similar circles though his own partnership with guitarist Milton Pitre was cut tragically short by the latter man’s senseless murder. Sadness and melancholy are recurring moods with songs like “Miserable” and “La Delaisser” (“The Abandonment”) relating tales of woe. Many of the tunes are sparer in cast than most contemporaneous Cajun fare, unfolding at loping tempos that underscore their folk origins. Stacked against the work of certifiable legends like Joe Falcon and Leo Soileau the music makes for a satisfyingly contrastive listening experience.

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