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New Iberians Zydeco Blues Band - Bon Temps Rouge (2011)

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There is a magic in the old songs, but not necessarily in performing them in the old ways. The New Iberians, a band from the Pacific Northwest named after a fun little Louisiana town, boldly illustrate their understanding of this truth on Bon Temps Rouge. The record takes Cajun roots music and makes it new again by stirring in just the right amount of off-beat innovation, whether that be a gut-bucket groove or a cross-pollinating flourish.

Bon Temps Rouge opens with an inspired update of “My Girl Josephine," written by Bayou State legends Fat Domino and Dave Bartholomew. Evan Shlaes, between atmospheric wheezes on the accordion, approaches the vocal like a rascally raconteur with a heart of gold. When he calls himself a beaucoup fool, it's with no small amount of pride, it seems. Meanwhile, guitarist Steve Davis peels off a series of concise rockabilly-style guitar riffs, adding a sharp wit to the familiar tune. Shlaes' original “Goin' To The Levee" sounds like a lost classic from Allen Toussaint, thanks in no small part to his bawdy bordello-style piano pounding. Terry Robb, who co-produced Bon Temps Rouge with Shlaes at Falcon Studios in Portland, Oregon, adds a slide guitar that's a swooning, swaying delight. Wailing behind them, like happy enablers, is a soulful group of backup singers including Sonya Kazen.

The album's squeezebox-driven title track, also penned by Shlaes, is a rattling tall tale about a flame-haired party girl at a Bourbon Street saloon, given a tough blues texture by Claes Almroth's energetic harmonica work. That vibe continues with Clifton Chenier's “Black Snake Blues," as Almroth takes the mic to deliver a braying, down-home vocal. “Terry Anne," another New Iberians original, underscores the old adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, as Shlaes explains the depth of his love by listing a series of favorite home-made dishes. The clackety-clack rhythm, put down with happy-go-lucky grace by drummer Fred Ingram and bassist J. Michael Kearsey, propels the tune along like a tail wagging the dog.

“Rock Island Line," the folk-blues standard by Louisiana's Huddie “Lead Belly" Ledbetter, is reborn as a Cajun hoedown. The New Iberians are again joined by Davis, whose guitar solo has the haughty swagger of Buck Owens' best sides, along with a rabble of loose-limbed backup singers including Mike Neely. Guitarist Clark Salisbury does a commendable job of scuffing up “Voulez-Vous Dancer," again with Neely in a casual aggregation of background vocalists. Together, they give Bobby Freeman's old tune a sock-hop rock feel, echoed and then goosed along by the mid-century jump-blues cry of Francisco Marmolejo's tenor.

Old-timey and stoic, Shlaes' “The Belmont Waltz" is the lone instrumental on Bon Temps Rouge, with Rick “Ed" Marcus taking a ghostly turn on the bowed saw. The reverie is snapped in two by the subsequent “Voodoo Juice," a rumbling zydeco blues that's propelled by this sizzling turn at the harp by Shlaes. Owens' “Hot Dog Stand," featuring another leaping interlude by Davis on the guitar, moves the recording back to the good-time bayou groove. Marmolejo stammers, rocks, and then rolls during a fun-loving turn on the sax as Shlaes mirthfully howls. When he returns for another go at the accordion, though, Shlaes is all business, running up and down the keyboard with a blinding virtuosity.

Perhaps the most interesting moment on Bon Temps Rouge, and the best example of how they so adroitly mix the tried-and-true with the offbeat, is the New Iberians' rollicking remake of Johnny Nash's “I Can See Clearly Now." Shlaes' takes over the riff on the squeezebox, then clips the lyrical rhythm, singing it double time. As Paul Bassette merrily scrapes on the washboard and Marmolejo scoots through another well-conceived turn, the sense of blue skies all around is palpable. “Lonesome" Walter Cryderman takes over guitar duties from Davis and Clark Salisbury this time, and his solo is jazzy side turn, full of wit and humor.

This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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