Blues de Musicien

Pine Leaf Boys.jpgTitle: Blues de Musicien
Artist: Pine Leaf Boys
Label: Arhoolie
Catalog No.: CD 533
Date: 2007

The Pine Leaf Boys, a quintet of young musicians from Louisiana, have recorded a fun and energetic second album in Blues de Musicien. The disc is full of variety, containing a nice mix of Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music, from boogies to waltzes, with older songs and new ones written by the band members. The Pine Leaf Boys have done their homework—indeed, most have attended college, majoring in Louisiana-friendly topics like French and Anthropology. The Boys have effectively completed apprenticeships in the music of la Louisiane, even, in the Texan fiddler’s case, recording Cajun radio programs upon family visits to the Pelican State.

Yet there’s nothing old or stodgy about these performances. The group’s love and knowledge of this music is natural and easy, such that the performances feel neither contrived nor excessively pious, common problems when younger musicians aim to revive or maintain older styles. The group understands that Cajun and zydeco are meant for dancing and partying first, scholarly appreciation second, and the disc nicely captures this attitude; one especially wishes to hear “Pine Leaf Boogie” and “Zydeco Gris-Gris” performed live. The Boys are skilled singers and players, especially the rhythm section of Blake Miller and Drew Simon, although guitarist Jon Bertrand could stand to work on his soloing. The overall sonic production sounds fresh and contemporary, yet still appropriate to the primarily acoustic instruments and style.

So what’s a review of a disc like this doing on a website called Black Grooves? The crude answer is that Cedric Watson, the group’s fiddler and best singer, is himself African American. But more relevant and interesting is that much of the music on this disc is drawn from the Creole music of Louisiana, that of the local black culture, which was itself influenced by the Cajun music that arrived in Louisiana by way of Nova Scotia and northwestern France. This influence found its way into music and language; the track “Ma Petite Femme” is sung in what the liner notes describe as the “almost-extinct ‘couri-vini’ which is regional and mostly associated with Blacks.”

At its best, Blues de Musicien reflects the gloriously blurred color line in much of Louisianan musical culture. The standout is this regard is “Quand Rita est arrivé,” an uptempo a cappella, revival-meeting style “juré,” full of clapping and off-kilter ensemble singing. The Rita in question is Hurricane Rita, which affected the Boys’ hometowns in western Louisiana far more than the more notorious Katrina. “Quand Rita est arrivé” is an original song, written by Bertrand, and it is the album’s best, capturing the sadness and struggle of Louisiana since the devastating summer of 2005, yet still full of the energy and resolute fun that has made the state justly famous worldwide. The song presents the Pine Leaf Boys at their best: properly aware and respectful of their black and white musical forebears, while still eager to develop and build upon those traditions for contemporary times. One hopes that the Pine Leaf Boys, in the future, will continue to strike this perfect balance between the old and the new, all while letting the bon temps rouler.

Posted by Jonathan Yaeger