Never judge a book by its cover or a musician by the case he carries. All while racking up years of acclaim as a fiddler, Berard — who passed away suddenly in early 2014 — was crafting a double disc guitar CD. Judging from his other bands, it would be easy to speculate this would be some sort of contemporary Cajun guitar-fused record. It’s not. Incredible Journey, instead, is a surprise around every corner. Who could have guessed that the founding Basin Brother would cover “Take On Me” with the backing of The St. Joseph Catholic Church Choir? Or that Berard could somehow come across as a Steely Dan sound-a-like on tracks such as the “The Well”? Sure, there are the expected moments — French numbers such as “Belle Journee,” “New Acadians” (a bluesy electric guitar tribute to Tommy Comeaux) and “Belle,” from the Lomax recordings — but overwhelmingly the CD is an incredible journey that takes its own course and knows no precedent. Berard, with his mandolin, bass and guitar, shoulders the load of covering Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” by himself. “Attakapas Trail” pays ode to the Ishak people with a guitar performance possessing the beauty and feel of a Western sunset. Berard dabbles in Jimi Hendrix and 1980s guitar rock on tracks like “Save me From Myself” and “Running.” He heads west again and to the south with the border sounds of “Mexico.” At the same time, Incredible Journey makes the listener marvel at Berard’s abilities and diversity and regret the talent Acadiana lost with his passing.
KRISTI GUILLORY AND ANYA BURGESS
There’s no need for hyphens in describing Kristi Guillory and Anya Burgess’ untitled record. As the jacket notes, it is the music the two of them play when not with Grammy-nominated Bonsoir, Catin. Simple, honest Cajun music. The duo calls up the earliest of Cajun recordings, a collection of traditional tunes adapted in the 1920s and ’30s by the likes of Octa Clark, Hector Duhon, Lawrence Walker, Bixy Guidry, Slim Doucet, Adam and Cyprien Landreneau, Edius Naquin (even using his fiddle), Leo Soileau and others. Here they uncover gems likely undiscovered by most of their audience and present earlier versions of well-known cuts — “Cherokee Waltz” and “Bosco Stomp” make appearances via other names. Though their latest Bonsoir, Catin effort found them breaking progressive ground — covering modern singer/songwriter songs, singing in English and pretty, glossy tunes — this CD is steadfastly close to the traditional heart of Cajun music. The pairing of just the accordion and fiddle — not soloing, not competing with one another but complementing each other and sometimes merging as one solid instrument — recalls bal de maison sounds captured on field recordings or through retro-minded musicians. Not rough, but rugged, unpolished and untouched by studio hands. Not old and dusty, just dusted off and bursting with life.
Staring at Maps, Pt. 1
I have a hard-and-fast rule about (non-Cajun or zydeco) bands named after or related to geography: Kansas, Boston, Styx (mythical geography is still geography), Aerosmith (true, they aren’t geographically referenced, but sill … ugh). So, when Sean Bruce’s Staring at Maps, Pt. 1 (featuring songs named “Louisiana,” “Canyons,” and “Queen of England,” no less) landed in my box, the outlook was bleak. Apparently, it is OK to stare at maps as long as you don’t name your band after them.
With a voice that is somewhere in the range of Townes Van Zandt meets Bob Dylan, Bruce explores indie folk rock through a drinking song, a song about the sea and recasting a girl as Louisiana … or the other way around. As cliché as that sounds, he’s careful. Bruce doesn’t overdo it with clichés of what is supposed to be indie folk rock, instead turning in well-crafted and very well produced — as sharp as a saw — music that is laden with well-worded poetry. In fact, his most geographically infused track is also his finest. The simple “Louisiana” starts out as a Dylan-esque guitar and stomp-only cut before erupting into a catchy and sunny number with a sing-along hook that calls up Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.” Adding a more homespun flavor, he pines, “I swear to God her momma cooked just as good as mine,” about this girl — or state — he loves. His efforts live up to the genre’s mission of taking old and making it new, or refreshed and restyled. Staring at Maps blends Irish bahdrans with mini orchestral sounds; simple percussion with larger sounds; fiddles, banjoes, mandolins, t’ feres with synths, cellos and ambient noise. But, somehow it does this without making it a clustered mess. It doesn’t hurt that the cast of guests includes Mitch Reed, Jesse Reaux, Alan Lafleur, Chris French, Danny Devillier and Tony Davoren. A solid five-song release, it is the exception to my geography rule.
THE AMAZING NUNS
It’s a safe bet the words “indie,” “swamp pop” and “psychedelic” have never been used together in a sentence. Until now. It could be argued there is some sort of musical rule against merging these three sounds. If there is a rule against it, The Amazing Nuns ignore it on In Paradise, just like they ignored the rule about Lafayette rock bands being together for so long (the Nuns now in their 11th year). Either way, In Paradise puts together these sounds and others; there’s a slight feel of 1980s dance vibe going in songs like “Hell.” “Hot Potato” and “The Water” dabble in South Louisiana’s swamp pop past, meshing it with a washed out, day-tripping vocal delivery. The first track, “Unknown,” is the standout as it veers from the usual Amazing Nuns path. Mixing deconstructed guitar chords with dual singers and indie pop aesthetics, the unique track (for the Carencro band) sets a pace that the rest of the record unfortunately abandons. For Amazing Nuns fans, there is little disappointment: The album is dotted with stops in their irreverent song book — “Hell” claims that all of the religions/useless/defenseless/homeless burn in hell with the devil. In Paradise is such a whacked-out ride that you can’t help be pulled into its brain warp, a spin of sounds and textures that will leave you dazed and likely not capable of driving after listening to it.