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Review: Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, Grand Isle

Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys
Grand Isle
[Self-released (2011)]

In recent years, Steve Riley has been involved in several side project groups, such as High Performance, Racines, and Lil’ Band O’ Gold. Maybe that’s why it has taken five years for one of Cajun music’s most prolific and adventurous performers to release a new studio album. The initial impression is that the songs on Grand Isle could deal with some dark themes. The title of the album refers to the island that was devastated by the 2010 oil disaster, and the cover photo is that of a bird soaked in crude oil. The inside cover depicts a drop of oil with the caption stating simply “April 20, 2010—4.9 million barrels.” Instead, the album, which was produced by C. C. Adcock, reflects the resilience of the people of Louisiana.

The songs, half of which are originals by Riley or band members Sam Broussard and David Greeley, cover a wide range of themes and styles. Although the songs are sung mostly in French, there’s a smattering of English lyrics in some of the songs. “C’est l’heure pour changer,” which has a joyful ska beat and a female chorus, takes a bittersweet approach to the past while looking to the future. “Pierre,” with lyrics that consist of Creole proverbs, leads off with a compelling juré rhythm and ends with a vigorous percussion workout. The title song and “C’est Trop/Too Much” both deal obliquely with the oil spill. “Chatterbox” is a rocker performed with distorted vocals that was written by New Orleans one-man band Quintron, while “Lyons Point” makes effective use of vintage recording technology. The most surprising track is a fairly straight rendition of Edith Piaf’s famous “Non, je ne regrette rien.” The album ends with the very mournful “Au revoir.”

—Paul-Emile Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)

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