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Roscoe Chenier / "Roscoe Chenier" / Avenue Jazz

November 24, 1994|RANDY LEWIS

The name Chenier, especially one who comes from Louisiana, almost universally means zydeco. But while Roscoe Chenier is indeed related to the late king of zydeco Clifton Chenier (they were second cousins), there's nary a whisper of an accordion nor the happy clatter of a rubboard on his blues-steeped debut.

That's not the only surprise on this jumping performance by the 53-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter. The other big one is the fascinating way Chenier and his band meld traditional Southern blues with New Orleans R&B on several songs. They make it seem like the most natural marriage in the world--so why haven't more blues or R&B musicians looked across that border?

The opening track, "Come On Home," begins as a medium-tempo, B.B. King-style shuffle, but when Vic Soileau's pumping piano kicks in, suddenly it echoes Frankie Ford's Crescent City classic, "Sea Cruise." Then he taps the spirit of Fats Domino's "Blue Monday" in the lamenting "You Don't Understand."

Other songs are blues pure and simple, like the instrumental rave-up "Louisiana Shuffle." Chenier's voice recalls King when he's in the upper register pleading for forgiveness or giving voice to heartache; he also reaches down to muster a soul-deep Howlin' Wolf growl when he needs one. His guitar work is economical rather than flashy, and, while not as mystically perfect as King's, is always tautly expressive.

Just when it seemed as if there were no discoveries left in the classic bluesman mold, along comes Roscoe in the nick of time.

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