Saturday, October 12, 2013

Zydeco Kings. Mighty Fine Gumbo

Zydeco Kings.  Mighty Fine Gumbo.
Self-produced, 2013.  Zydeco Kings:
There aren’t a lot of Zydeco bands in Northeast Ohio.  I can think of two, Mo’ Mojo and the Zydeco Kings, but I’m sure there are more.  Zydeco originated among rural Black Creoles of Southwestern Louisiana and combines traditional music from that region (already a mix of styles from the rich stew of cultures there) with blues, R&B, and other more modern influences.  It became known outside the region as a result of Clifton Chenier, the first major Zydeco star, back in the 1950s, and its popularity has spread worldwide.  It is first and foremost, dance music.  These days you’ll hear waltzes, two-steps, blues, rock, hip-hop, and almost anything else in the mix, depending on the band, but the core is the Creole-style music and the instrumentation.  There must be an accordion, and there must be a rubboard (a washboard that is worn over the shoulders).  Beyond that, other instruments are optional, although drums and brass are most common.
There are as many styles of Zydeco as there are bands, and each one brings a different mix of influences and instruments to their unique sound.  I like some artists (C. J. Chenier and Beau Jocque come to mind), and a few others not so much (I won’t list them).  I am happy to report that I place the Zydeco Kings in the former category.  They’ve got a great sound, combining the basic Zydeco style with New Orleans R&B, Chicago blues.   Other instruments include keyboards, guitar, drums, and saxophone.  The first two tunes, “Junco Partner,” and “Slow Horses, Fast Women,” are straight out of the New Orleans songbook, standard repertoire for Zydeco bands.  I’m not sure who is singing here, since vocal credits are not given, but he’s got a style that is vaguely like Jimmy Buffett’s, not a bad thing in the context of the Caribbean influences in the style.  “Mighty Fine Gumbo” brings us a Jefferson Rice original, with few vocals but a lot of good rhythm.  More Louisiana comes through with “Morning Train” by Andrus Espre (AKA Beau Jocque) and two Meters’ tunes, “ Hey Pocky Way” and “Cissy Strut.”  
We cross over into blues territory, courtesy of Willie Dixon, with two songs, “I’m Ready,” and “Help Me” (the latter based on Booker T.’s “Green Onions”).  “Help Me” is my favorite song on the album, although there are hardly any I don’t care for.  I have to say that one, “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” leaves me a bit uneasy in the politically correct department, despite its pedigree as a hit for Harry Belafonte way back when.  The tune is good though, with a Caribbean flair.  As far as musicanship goes, everyone plays magnificently.  I am especially impressed by the guitar and accordion solos in “I’m Ready” and the organ in “Help 

The surest way to determine the quality of a Zydeco album is by the dance/head-bopping scale.  If it makes you dance or, if sitting, bop your head, then it’s a success.  While I was listening to this album sitting on the couch with my headphones on, my wife came in and started laughing at me.  I realized that I was head bopping like mad.  
Performers:  Bob Corlett (keys, vocals), Paula Hart (rubboard), George Lee (bass), Doug Smith(drums), Dave Howard (guitar, vocals), Jefferson Rice (sax, keys, vocals).
Tracks:  Junco Partner; Slow Horses, Fast Women; Mighty Fine Gumbo; I Got Loaded; Help Me; Hey Pocky Way; Morning Train; I’m Ready; Man Smart, Woman Smarter; Cissy Strut.
Jeff Wanser

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