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Feature Review: Acadian All Star Special: The Pioneering Cajun Recordings of J.D. Miller

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Acadian All Star Special: The Pioneering Cajun Recordings of J.D. Miller
[Bear Family (2011)]

J. D. “Jay” Miller (1922-1996) was a maverick record producer from Crowley, Louisiana who is known for having produced swamp pop, such as Rod Bernard and Warren Storm, and swamp blues, including Lazy Lester and Slim Harpo. He also wrote “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a #1 hit for Kitty Wells in 1952 and the song that virtually made the housewife an overnight sensation. Regrettably, he also produced some unsavory segregationist recordings for his Reb Rebel label. This new lavish box set is an emphatic reminder that Miller also played a very important role in preserving and developing Cajun music shortly after the Second World War.

Some of the recordings on Fais Do Do, the first label devoted to Cajun music, and Feature have been reissued in the past, most notably on vinyl on the British Flyright label in the 1980s, but this is the first time that such a comprehensive compilation of these two Miller labels has been made available. Some of the tracks, which all date from 1946-1959, are especially rare discs that have never been reissued until now. The sound has been improved marvelously, and the 78 tracks (on three CDs) come with a deluxe 82-page hard cover lp-sized book that’s replete with beautiful photos of the artists and dancehalls, as well as extensive annotation and discographies.

The success of Harry Choates’s “Jole Blon” convinced Miller that there was still a commercial audience for what was then known as “French music.” Some of the many gems that Miller produced include early recordings by Happy, Doc & The Boys (his first and most successful signing); Lionel Cormier & The Sundown Playboys (who released a 45 on Apple records in 1972); Aldus Roger & The Lafayette Playboys; Austin Pitre (also listed as Austin Pete); Chuck Guillory & His Rhythm Boys; and his own father-in-law Lee Sonnier & His Acadian All Stars. The latter’s “War Widow Waltz” was known to make women cry whenever Laura Broussard, the group’s vocalist, sang it in public.

Although the label’s hillbilly sides, not to mention Miller’s records from his subsequent labels, have been left out of this box set some of the recordings, such as those by Jimmy Newman & The Rhythm Boys, Abe Manuel & His Louisiana Hillbillies, and Jimmy Choates & His Melody Boys, feature steel guitar as well as fiddle and accordion, imparting a country flavour to the music. Papa Cairo sings both French and English versions of “Big Texas,” the song that Hank Williams turned into “Jambalaya.” Terry Clement and his Rhythmic Five is an unknown entity but they were responsible for the original version of “Diggy Diggy Lo.” Those looking to buy a present for a Cajun music fan need look no further. This mother lode is bound to be this year’s, possibly this decade’s, most alluring historical retrospective of Cajun music.

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

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