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On The Off Beat : Cultural Caretaker Of Cajun Reveals A Gem

September 20, 1987|DON SNOWDEN

A periodic roundup of reggae, roots, regional and ethnic recordings.

"BAYOU BOOGIE." Beausoleil. Rounder. Formed in the mid-'70s, Beausoleil is the cultural caretaker for Cajun music. The sextet, led by fiddler Michael Doucet, unwraps the amps and electric instruments for the first time on "Bayou Boogie" to cover a broad spectrum of Louisiana music styles.

On its seventh album and first Rounder release, Beausoleil doesn't stray too far from its root sources--the singing is mainly in French and the material is mostly traditional tunes arranged by Doucet. But the juxtaposition of the classic New Orleans R&B of "It's You I Love" with a simple Cajun gem like "Dimanche Apres-midi" is as captivating as the way the syncopated second-line rhythms of "Mamam Rosin Boudreaux" give way to the pristine instrumental "Ches Seychelles."


"LOVE IS OVERDUE." Judy Mowatt. Shanachie. Mowatt is a commanding singer (she can be a dead ringer for Martha Reeves) and accomplished songwriter and she's the first reggae woman to take an active hand in producing and arranging her solo albums. But "Love Is Overdue" almost sinks under the weight of three crossover-oriented tracks produced by Philly soulster Dexter Wansel, including a mannered version of "Try a Little Tenderness." They strip Mowatt's individuality and spirit by cloaking her voice in gauzy, soft-focus arrangements.

Mowatt is quite capable of courting the non-reggae audience on her own terms. With assistance from Steven and Alden Stewart, her production here is lightly textured and contemporary instead of the kind of the bass-heavy barrage that sends reggae purists straight to dub heaven.

The song selection is savvy (UB40's anthemic "Sing Your Own Song," Bob Marley's little-known "Screwface") and, on her own material, her frank lustiness ("Rock Me") is as convincing as her spiritual testaments and poignant social observations ("One More Minute"). So why must Judy Mowatt go through these ill-advised crossover contortions?


"BABY, YOU CAN GET YOUR GUN." Snooks Eaglin. Black Top. Like the late pianist James Booker, Eaglin (who appears at the Long Beach Blues Festival today) is one of those unpredictable, eclectic New Orleans rascals who will tackle any song or style as the spirit moves them. Consider one stretch on the guitarist's first album in several years, where he moves from the piano-flavored R&B of "Oh, Sweetness" through the flamenco-flavored instrumental "Perfidia" (a hit for the Ventures in 1960) to the slow blues "Lavinia," featuring David Lastie's down-and-dirty tenor sax.

Fats Domino's rhythm section supplies a buoyant, jazzy swing and Eaglin's high spirits are so pervasive, it hardly matters that "Drop the Bomb" is throwaway James Brown funk. But his cognac-smooth vocals get down to serious business on the wryly twisted blues "That Certain Door" and "You Give Me Nothing but the Blues."


"BACK IN TOWN." Boyoyo Boys. Rounder. Blame "Graceland" on the Boyoyo Boys--it was a tape of their music that lit the South African fire under Paul Simon. "Back in Town" is the veteran group's last album (the stabbing death of drummer Archie Mohlala ended its career in 1984), and this collection of instrumentals should separate true fans of South Africa's mbqanga pop sound from the tourists.

The strong material is topped by tart sax solos, but the absence of vocals and the similarity in tempo do make the songs sound interchangeable. Listeners new to South African pop would do better with Shanachie Records compilations like "Soweto Never Sleeps" and "The Indestructible Beat of Soweto." A wrist slap to Rounder for the fragmentary liner notes, which contain no listing of band personnel. Who are these mystery Boyoyos?


"A NIGHT LIKE THIS." Buckwheat Zydeco. Island. Stanley (Buckwheat) Dural leans heavily on his accordion prowess and the Louisiana style's inherent rhythmic zest on what is being touted as the first major-label zydeco album. The material mixes originals with selections from the songbooks of Dylan (the title track), Booker T ("Time Is Tight) and Clifton Chenier (the racehorse "Hot Tamale Baby").

"People's Choice" is a slow, jazz-tinged change of pace, but the highlight is "Marie, Marie"--Dural's down-to-earth vocals and unaccompanied accordion intro and coda capture the melancholy mood underpinning Dave Alvin's song. Producer Ted Fox captures the rhythmic kick that makes zydeco such great dance music, but somehow the individual cuts on "A Night Like This" sound greater than the album as a whole.


"THE NEW BLUEBLOODS." Various artists. Alligator. This anthology introducing 10 up-and-coming Chicago blues artists shows how thoroughly soul and rock influences have permeated the classic Windy City blues sound. Li'l Ed & the Blues Imperials' "Young Thing" is the only rough 'n' ready throwback, while Valerie Wellington's "A Fool for You" and Gloria Hardiman's "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" stand out by virtue of striking, gospel-influenced vocal performances.

Maurice John Vaughan and Melvin Taylor show well on their selections, but the man to watch is singer-guitarist Dion Payton. On the evidence of his assured "All Your Affection Is Gone," Payton may have the songwriting skills, instrumental chops and contemporary flair to join Robert Cray in the modern young bluesman's camp.

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