Blues Bytes


June 2013

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Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
Creole Crossroads
Rounder Records

NathanI didn’t find out about Zydeco music (well, other than Rockin’ Sidney’s “My Toot Toot”) until I started regularly attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the late ’80s. After hearing several bands at the Fairgrounds, I started getting interested and discovered the charms of artists like Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, and Buckwheat Zydeco.

Of all these groups, my favorite was Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. I really liked the fact that they mixed in lots of R&B and Caribbean rhythms into their brand of Zydeco, similar to Chenier, and the charisma of front man Nathan Williams. During that time, I also started listening to Cajun music that I heard at Jazz Fest. I really liked Beausoleil, who was fronted by Michael Doucet, who played a mean fiddle.

So naturally, when I first saw the album Creole Crossroads (Rounder Records), which teamed Williams and his band with Doucet, I got excited. When I played it for the first time, I knew that my excitement was justified. The disc is really a lot of fun and if your toe is not tapping from the beginning, you probably need to check your pulse. The band and Doucet didn’t even play together until the day they started recording, so obviously there was a musical bond there. The fireworks start immediately.

The opening cut, “Zydeco Hog,” is a Creole cousin to Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” and finds Williams declaring his love and devotion to his music. “Festival Zydeco” is similar, praising the music and the culture surrounding it. If doesn’t make you want to drive to southwest Louisiana, you’re beyond help. “Alligator” is a danceable silly song with lines like “Tomato gravy/Drives you crazy.”

Williams and Doucet also found that they shared an affection for Clifton Chenier’s music, so they did three songs associated with the King of Zydeco (“Black Gal,” “Hard To Love Someone,” and a medley of “Black Snake” and “I Can’t Go Home”), plus a stirring tribute tune (“La Nuit De Clifton Chenier”). When Nathan Williams was getting started, he learned accordion from Buckwheat Zydeco, who once played in Chenier’s band. It’s on these tracks that you feel the blues influence…..many of Chenier’s songs were adaptations of blues songs. Another example is “Hard To Love Someone,” based on a single from Guitar Slim’s Atco days.

There are also a couple of songs that feature only Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas. They are the Z.Z. Hill soul/blues “Everybody’s Got To Cry” and the traditional blues, “I Wanna Be Your Chauffeur.” Williams and Doucet face off on a couple of acoustic duets, too….”Hey Yie Yie” and “Ma Femme Nancy,” Williams’ love song to his wife, which is a reworking of the old tune, “Eunice Two Step.”

Coolest of all is the closing track, “Jolie Noir,” which is based on another old Zydeco tune, “Jolie Blonde.” On this track, Williams’ brother, Sid (of the famous El Sid O’s club in Lafayette), plays accordion and sings, with Doucet’s fiddle in accompaniment.

Creole Crossroads is one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s a lot of fun from start to finish. I have played it countless times over the years. It’s a great starting point for music fans wanting to find out more about Zydeco, and it’s an amazing document that features two musicians with an almost telepathic rapport. I hope that one day they can get together again.

--- Graham Clarke
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