No Easy Choice

by Nick Pittman

This weekend, a Louisiana artist will most likely win another Grammy. But which one?

Eric Adcock and Roddie Romero
Photo by Robin May

If history is any indication, the statue inscribed with the words “Best Regional Roots Music Album” will leave Los Angeles' Grammy awards on Sunday, Feb. 12 and head to Acadiana. When it does, it will make a great statement about the diversity and inclusiveness of Acadiana's music.

In the short five-year existence of the category — a catch-all created after streamlining scrapped the previous Cajun and Zydeco Grammy just to combine it with a handful of other “regional” genres (derision mine, because these sounds transcend locality) — Louisiana has taken every one of the awards. Three of them have gone to artists from Acadiana — Terrance Simien, The Band Cortbouillon and Jo-el Sonnier — tipping the scale in our favor over New Orleans, which has grabbed two at the hands of Jon Cleary and Rebirth Brass Band.

The other nominees in this years' category, Northern Cree's It's a Cree Thing and Kalani Pe'a's E Walea, may be beloved by their fans, but again, history is on our side. And it doesn't hurt that Southwest Louisiana is represented by three albums that both preserve our roots music and move its sounds progressively forward in a way unrivaled by most other previous releases and nominees.

I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax In The Evangeline Country is a four-disc collaboration between Lomax scholar Joshua Caffery and Valcour Records' Joel Savoy that does more to modernize and diversify what is thought of as Acadian music than any previous project.

The two paired songs from the Lomax recordings with well-known local musicians. Artists as diverse in genre as Tiffany Lamson of GIVERS and Steve Riley conversely re-imagined the material in their own terms and kept it close to the originals. It's a yield that could only come from a place where you could grub on sushi and a plate lunch within blocks of each other. The results range from Michael Doucet's fiddle-only, traditional “La Chanson de Theogene Dubois” to Lamson's “Orphan Girl” — its bare bones, synthetic, pulsating beat pounding away behind playful claps, electronic harmonies and her wispy vocals.

The biggest surprise in the category is Broken Promised Land. Who would have guessed Barry Ancelet, the noted folklorist and purveyor of traditional Cajun music, would have such a heady, poetic album in him? Partnered with Sam Broussard (a dynamic multi-instrumentalist who creates the record's back drop), Ancelet's poetry warps expectations in songs like “Conte de Faits” and “Promised Land,” both cosmic kaleidoscopes of Cajun and guitar blues sounds, more traditional numbers such as “Appuye Dessus la Barre” and the Western swing styling of “Une Derniere Chanson.” At the same time, Broken Promised Land manages to be minimal, atmospheric and simple yet textured and never plain. These are not Cajun songs, not blues cuts but a slow melting dreamlike marriage of the two.

If there are odds on who will win the Grammy categories, the most conservative bet for a winner would be Roddie Romero & The Hub City All-Stars' Gulfstream. Not to take away from the other two albums — quite fine and a welcome change of pace — but the Hub City All-Stars record has crossover potential and better fits into the concept of what a winning album is. It is also the most likely to draw support from the New Orleans voters who do not have a horse in this race; Romero is no stranger to the Crescent City, the record has some 504 flavors in its sounds and in their cover of Allen Toussaint's "My Baby is the Real Thing." Plus, it's hard to check any other box after hearing the title track, which is also up for Best American Roots Song against artists like Jack White and Vince Gill.

A meaningful record, Romero and Eric Adcock, who shared in songwriting duties and provided the keys, pay homage to the the late Buckwheat Zydeco, David Egan and Bobby Charles. Yet, as much as it looks back it moves forward: In their trademark fashion, the All-Stars fuse Cajun and zydeco sounds to swamp pop piano and horns on “Donne-Moi, Donc,” conjure up a South Louisiana Stevie Ray Vaughan on “One Trick Pony,” strike funky rock notes on “Windmill in a Hurricane,” plus incorporate a roots rock feel throughout many tracks. Add in the back story of the album — the years spent conceptualizing and recording it, plus Romero's personal struggles — and it is a tale of perseverance and redemption that makes the statue shine even brighter.

For the musicians behind these records, putting Grammy winner before or after their name will add a luster that eclipses their already impressive Grammy-nominated tag. To the rest of us, however, it won't matter how the ballots are cast. Barring some voting disaster via a three-way split in support, this Sunday's ceremony will see a great addition to South Louisiana's musical legacy.
Nick Pittman is a freelance entertainment and feature writer. To contact him, email [email protected]_