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December 2011

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Various Artists
The Best of Louisiana Music
Rounder Records

The Best of Louisiana Music

First, there is no way that all of the "best" of Louisiana could fit on one CD --- there's just way too much great music from that region to fit on anything less than a carload of "best of" compilations.

But with that said, Rounder Records' 1993 The Best of Louisiana Music is pretty darned good. The Rounder staff did a great job at sampling the vast tapestry of Louisiana music from their various releases and making the 19 cuts sound well together. Just about every regional style of music is included, from Zydeco to Cajun to classic New Orleans R&B to brass bands and more. This one's a certified party in a jewel case.

The disc opens with Beausoleil's version of "Bon Temps Rouler," signaling the listener that this CD is going to get to put everyone in a Mardi Gras frame of mind. The album then meanders in and out of New Orleans, covering a lot of musical territory along the way. Your favorite songs will likely depend on your mood at any given time. Today I was in a brass band, "second line" frame of mind, and the song that turned out to be my favorite was the Rebirth Brass Band's version of the classic reefer song, "If You're A Viper"; Kermit Ruffins raspy vocals stand out here. It's hard to believe that this song would segue so well into an old time Cajun number, but the transition to "Les flammes d'enfer," from the trio of Eddie LeJeune, D.L. Menard and Ken Smith, is seamless.

In addition to more contemporary stuff, the disc also includes Mardi Gras classics such as Professor Longhair's "Big Chief, Part 1" and a version of "Carnival Time" from Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band checks in with a nice cover of Longhair's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans."

The soulful crooner genre is well represented with numbers from Johnny Adams ("Imitation of Love") and Chuck Carbo (a bawdy "Black Drawers").

It wouldn't be a Crescent City collection without something from the Neville family --- included here is a young Aaron Neville doing "Mojo Hannah" and The Meters with "Look-Ka Py Py."

From the Zydeco scene is Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas with an energetic and somewhat raucous "Your Mama Don't Know." Nathan sure knows how to get the audience into his groove and he shows it here. Buckwheat Zydeco does the Clifton Chenier standard "Hot Tamale Baby," and the album closes strongly with John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys performing "Watch That Dog."

Other artists included here are Irma Thomas, Jimmy C. Newman and Cajun Country, Mamou, James Booker, Bo Dollis and Willie Tee with Dr. John, and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys --- all contribute strong cuts.

Like I said at the beginning of the review, this CD just starts to scratch the surface of the wealth of Louisiana music. But if you are just starting your collection, it's a nice entry point.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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