Back in 1970, Jerry Reed unleashes “Amos Moses,” a mighty hot ’n’ spicy tale about a Cajun alligator hunter, and it’s on my plastic turntable the following year. Not long after, Creedence Clearwater Revival enters my playlists, the best part being John Fogerty’s bluesy, gritty voice. What is he, Cajun, or does he just try to sound that way? Especially on “Bootleg” (or “Boo-lay” as he sings it). “Born on the Bayou” is even more intense, with its hot gumbo of guitars stomping through the dense swamps in the summer heat. When the immortal Captain Beefheart comes along, “Clear Spot” stands out, stomping through the swamp again as only the surrealist, swashbuckling Don Van Vliet can. But wait – none of those guys are actually from Louisiana. Reed was born in Georgia; Fogerty and Van Vliet in California. So let’s move on to some authentic Louisianans…
Mac Rebennack! The Night Tripper! New Orleans’ own Dr. John. His hit “Right Place, Wrong Time” (containing the lyric “brain salad surgery” before ELP adopt it for their album title) and semi-hit “Such a Night” make their way into my records and radio along there in the ’70s. Around 1980something, after seeing the film The Big Easy, I pick up Zydeco Gris-Gris by Lafayette group Beausoleil, the title track featuring in the movie’s opening credits. Next, a Buckwheat Zydeco album…and how about that TV show The Cajun Cook, hosted by the very entertaining Justin Wilson (pronounced “Juice’tan Wil’sone”), which conveniently appears around this time? Cajun rules! I gar-on-tee!
Now in 2018, another Lafayette band called Michot’s Melody Makers is out and about with their debut Blood Moon. Led by Louis Michot, lead singer and fiddler of the Grammy-winning Lost Bayou Ramblers, the Melody Makers stomp through the swamp with a collection of contemporary, amped-up renditions rooted in French-Louisiana fiddle and “pre-accordion” Cajun and Creole music. If Blood Moon’s opener “Two-Step de Ste. Marie” doesn’t get you moving as it bulldozes through its drum/fiddle/triangle riff, nothing will. “Grand Marais” continues the party, after which “Dans Les Pins” (“In the Pines”) comes creeping in. The high-steppin’ energy is back with “Allons Tous Boire Un Coup” and “Blues de Neg Francais,” then…“La Lune Est Croche”! One of the album’s best tracks, melding traditional instrumentation with modern rock vocals. Imagine Ozzy transplanted from his classic black magick metal to the voodoo and graveyards of New Orleans! And singing in French of course.
Meanwhile, over in Lake Charles, a woman named Lucinda Williams appears and proceeds to make marvelous music throughout the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, right up to today. And on November 7, 2018 she arrives at NYC’s Beacon Theatre for one of twelve select dates (in ten cities) of the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 20th Anniversary Tour. With her backing band Buick 6 (guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton), plus special guest keyboardist Roy Bittan of E Street Band fame and special guest guitarist/harmonica-ist Steve Earle (both of whom played on and co-produced Car Wheels), Ms. Williams performs the album in its entirety, beginning with an intriguingly off-time “Right in Time” and ending with the heartfelt moaning of “Jackson.” And since the album itself is so good, the set plays like a collection of greatest hits.
With little anecdotes about how each song came into existence – the best being how “I Lost It” was inspired by Williams’ annoyance at the proliferation of bumper stickers along the highway proclaiming “I Found It!” – the experience is more like hanging out with Lucinda in her living room than watching her from a dark theater seat high above a stage. Other great songs with great intros: “Metal Firecracker” (the “metal firecracker” was her band’s tour bus), “Joy” (came to mind while driving long distances alone), “Lake Charles” (about a guy who, among other things, made a mean pot of gumbo), and the title song (Lucinda’s father, the late poet Miller Williams, told her the little kid in the song, in the back seat of a car, was actually her – “little bit of dirt mixed with tears”). And what? They couldn’t find an actual “gravel road” for the album cover, so they had to use a stock photo? Yes, we learn that – and probably way more than we need to know – as Lucinda and Buick 6 rock on through the evening.
l-r: Sutton, Norton, Williams, Mathis (photo by me)
Following Car Wheels, Williams solos on 2016’s “Ghosts of Highway 20,” then brings the band back (minus Bittan and Earle) for a handful of stuff from her other albums including “Those Three Days” and “Righteously” (her only song to appear in karaoke books, a distinction she seems quite proud of) from 2003’s World Without Tears; “Dust” (based on one of her dad’s poems) from The Ghosts of Highway 20; a nice, crunchy version of “Essence” from the 2001 album of that name; and the crowd-riling, fist-raising “Foolishness” from the 2014 release Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Encore-wise, a jazz collaboration (with Charles Lloyd, who does not make an appearance); the Grammy-winning “Get Right With God” from Essence; and, with Mr. Bittan returning to his keys, the grand finale: Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”
Okay, meetcha down bayou at the crawfish boil…
Images courtesy alizah.co, 45cat.com, guitarcenter.com, musicstack.com, discogs.com, blissandmischief.com, ritalovestowrite.com/Smoking Meat Forum, michotsmelodymakers.bandcamp.com, allmusic.com/David McClister, pixels.com/Karl Wagner
Beacon Theatre videos courtesy YouTube/choops4683 and mr2bur; other Lucinda Williams videos courtesy Lucinda Williams YouTube channel