Today on Driftwood, two of the Savoy family’s many great contributions to Cajun music, and two albums from their friends.
Linzay Young & Joel Savoy [Valcour (2009)]
Sarah Savoy & the Francadians, C’ez Savoy [self-release (2009)]
The Magnolia Sisters, Stripped Down [Arhoolie CD 538 (2009)]
Bonsoir Catin Vive L’Amour [Valcour VAL-CD-0007 (2009)]
As the cover story of a recent issue of France’s Trad Magazine recently made clear, the Savoy Family has been creating quite a legacy for itself, one that’s reflected in its members’ collective discography. Wilson Savoy, Marc and Ann Savoy’s younger son, has been a member of the Red Stick Ramblers and is now with the Pine Leaf Boys. His brother Joel Savoy, who used to lead the Red Stick Ramblers, is now one of the founders of Valcour Records, while Linzay Young, his musical partner, remains with the group.
On their self-titled debut, Young and Savoy took the old-fashioned route of recording their album in a single afternoon. It’s traditional Cajun music with no frills, the way it used to be played by their fiddle heroes Wallace “Cheese” Read, Wade Frugé, Dennis McGee, and others. Some tunes are played as fiddle duets, while others feature Young on fiddle with Savoy accompanying on guitar. Approximately half the tracks feature vocals. The playing is virtuosic, and the duo’s musical empathy is consistently engaging.
Sarah Savoy, Joel’s sister, is a singer-guitarist who leads a Cajun band in Paris. The title of the group’s first album, Off to the Honky-Tonk, reflected the fact that the group has a penchant for country. C’ez Savoy, the sequel, doesn’t herald a new direction, but it shows that the band is tighter than ever. C’ez Savoy was recorded in a three-day session with Joel when Sarah came back home to marry her bass player. The group wisely avoids songs that are overly familiar, the most obvious exception being Papa Cairo’s “Grand Texas.” Several are originals, but the group also draws from Iry Lejeune, Adam Hebert, and Cleoma Breaux, whose “Lève tes fenêtres hautes” could almost pass as a rock ’n’ roll song. The country leanings come out in Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway” (sung in English) and in Dewey Balfa’s French version of George Jones’ “Don’t Stop the Music.” The group’s love of rockabilly surfaces in “T’as pas honte,” an adaptation of Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t.” The album’s penultimate track is a soulful rendition of David Greely’s “Marie Mouri.”
The Magnolia Sisters, which consist of Jane Vidrine, Lisa Trahan, Anya Burgess, and Ann Savoy, have recruited Joel Savoy to help with production. The title, Stripped Down, refers to the approach, which is to keep things simple while bringing out the best in the women’s natural abilities. On “Jolie petite blonde,” for example, Joel decided to use a vintage radio microphone, which makes the track sound like an old blues recording. The next track is an obscure song from Harry Oster’s collection called “Pourquoi tu m’as trahi?” that Ann and Jane sing exquisitely with just Jane’s guitar as accompaniment. Even the few old chestnuts, such as Chuck Guillory’s “Grand Texas,” are given fresh treatments. Clarence Garlow’s “Bon temps rouler,” again featuring Ann’s vocals, is especially compelling, with its droning fiddles and a steady beat that’s carried forward by acoustic guitar, bass, and rubboard. “Barroom Blues” is an old-time string band blues that sounds eerily like “St. James’ Infirmary.”
Bonsoir Catin doesn’t have as strong a Savoy connection, although Joel Savoy did master the album at his studio and release it on his label. The quartet consists of Kristi Guillory (accordion), Yvette Landry (bass), Christine Balfa Powell (whose husband, Dirk, produced), and Anya Burgess (fiddle; she is also one of the Magnolia Sisters). Jude Veillon plays drums, and half a dozen notable musicians make guest appearances on some tracks. The dozen tracks are pided close to equally between new songs by Guillory; songs by well-known artists such as Belton Richard, D.L. Menard, and Adam Hebert; and traditional albeit non-Cajun material, such as “Black Cat Bones” and “Reuben’s Train.” Over the course of Vive l’Amour, Bonsoir Catin tackles honky-tonk Cajun country, swamp pop, blues, and more. Information as to who sings which tracks isn’t provided, but that’s the only shortcoming. The fact that fabulous albums by two all-women Cajun bands have been released within months of each other is a sign that women are finally finding their place at the upper echelons of Cajun music.
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[Edit: Corrected “C’est” to ‘C’ez”.]