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Review: Donald Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana, Wide Open

It’s been far too long since we had a cajun album to talk about. This makes me want to go poke about in the shoals for some crawfish. Those live in the ocean, right? I’ll just get my palm tree umbrella and go for a stroll. Or a two-step!

Donald Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana
Wide Open
[Swallow Records (2011)]

When Donald Fontenot and his then-christened group Les Amies de la Louisianne (Louisiana Friends) first bust onto the crawfish circuit in the mid-1990s, they were as trad Cajun as they come. But by the time the group released its third disc, Ride The Donkey, in 2004, they were already infusing swamp pop and crunchy zydeco into a reasonably strong Cajun repertoire. Now, with an official name change to its English counterpart, Friends of Louisiana, and the disc’s telltale title, Wide Open, hinting at the lack of musical boundaries, this is hardly something for the purists. There are a couple of wonderful Cajun tracks like the peppy “Dans mes bras” and the gorgeous fiddle-led “La vieille berceuse,” but these are the only ones. Instead, a lot of this aligns with the current trend in Southwestern Louisiana, where more groups play a hybrid of zydecajun, swamp pop, southern rock, R&B, and country, in addition to a few carefully-crafted “French” selections.

Based on these criteria, Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana seem to have made that jump well. Most tracks aim for the party jugular (“Pop A Top,” “She Likes to Party”) with Darryl Fontenot playing a huge role here with his whirling keyboards and boogie-bombing ivory rides. Listen closely and you’re bound to recognize a recycled 1970s rock hook here or there. The bluesy “Where You Gonna Go” is an adaptation of Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” while “You and Me Makes We” intro resembles the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music.” Closer to home, Southwest Louisiana listeners are sure to find elements of Travis Matte party zydeco in “The Funky Monkey.” While it may not always be 100% original, at the same time, the various, well-designed hooks are sure to reel the average listener into the party at hand.

But the most obvious cover adaptation is Lynrkynd Skynryd’s “Simple Man” that’s rendered here as “Simple Cajun Man.” At one point during this arena rock opus, the arrangement slithers into a few measures of “Free Bird” before easing back into “Simple,” not a bad ploy for something of this ilk. Though it’s well done for what it strives to be, Wide Open will likely appeal more locally than on a national level.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

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