Cajun Roosters & Friends
Transatlantic Sessions is probably one of the most unusual recordings in Cajun music; but then again, the Cajun Roosters aren’t your ordinary chank-a-chankers either. The award-winning Roosters aren’t from the heart of Cajun country but are actually a pan-European band consisting of Britain’s Chris Hall (accordion/rubboard) and Sam Murray (percussion/lapsteel); Scotland’s (now British resident) Hazel Scott (rhythm guitar); and Germany’s Hartmut Hegewald (fiddle), Michael Bentele (bass), and former Rooster Klaus Warler (guitar). On these 14 tracks recorded between 2009 and 2011, the Roosters break bread with American counterparts Lafayette Rhythm Devils (LRD), Cedric Watson, Dwayne Dopsie, Corey Ledet, and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, among others, playing alongside them in different configurations whenever they toured Europe. Since time was of the essence, amazingly, many tracks were done in one take.
Undoubtedly with a project consisting of over 25 American and European musicians, the highlights can be staggering. Though there are superb renditions of familiar material (“Watch that dog,” “Le sud de la Louisiane,” “J’ai fait mon idée”), longtime Louisiana French music listeners will likely find treasures in the unusual instead. Watson slows down Lawrence Walker’s “Evangeline Waltz” to deliver a haunting vocal performance; Sarah Savoy takes an overlooked Walker novelty gem “Itty Bitty Girl” and twangs it up swing style with co-vocalist Hazel Scott.
Yet, don’t think of the Roosters solely as a backup band. A few of the zydeco tracks, as well as Hall’s steamy R&B composition “Double Shot,” feature the talented Hall alternating on accordion and lead vocals with that track’s featured performer. Dopsie and Hall rip through both a short and a long version of “Don’t mess with my Toot Toot,” with the latter being a torrid jam nearly 11 minutes in length.
Yet, it’s “Valse d’orphelin,” sung by the LRDs’ Yvette Landry, that yields the most emotional impact. With an acoustic accompaniment of guitars, lapsteel, fiddle and dobro, Landry, with her country-ish drawl, emotes the tragic story of a child waking up to find that his mother had been called to the heavens during the night. Once you know the story, it’s hard to make it through with a dry eye—Landry’s performance is that good.
—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)