On the Record: Sean Ardoin & ZydeKool

by Nick Pittman

When a zydeco musician has the last name Ardoin, he has a lot to live up to. Not only is Sean Ardoin doing his part in carrying the legacy of Amédé and Bois Sec, he is forging his own. This self-carved legacy is built on a relentless stage performance and a style that is both modern and manages to emulate classic zydeco (even from outside his famed family). This legacy building process is captured on Live at the Chicken Run.

After opening with “Beautiful,” a dual vocal jam that borrows from R&B styles and plays into his self-described alternative zydeco genre, Ardoin brings it hard and old school with a performance of “Cornbread” that damn near heralds him as the second-coming of Beau Jocque. Ardoin does this so deftly, it makes it seems like it was just yesterday that Beau Jocque ruled the circuit.

The part-loud-and-until-it’s-raw feel continues throughout the record, with Ardoin and his band absolutely tearing it up and mixing Jocque’s hype man/second vocalist shouts and good time flavor with new school and funky leanings. Ardoin is a leader in the new school movement, having updated his songbook to feature tracks that are a far cry from the music’s rural beginnings — let-me-love-you love songs and tracks about being out on the road (“Back to You”). Yet, he hasn’t forgotten to have a good time and fill a dancefloor. “Get tha Loo” doesn’t disappoint as the answer to great nonstop jams from zydeco’s past like “Bogalusa Boogie” and “Zydeco Cha Cha.”

Crafting his own take on what a zydeco anthem should be, “Two Fingers in the Air” is a signature live song if there ever was one. With a more laid back approach, Southern organ gently wafting in from the left speaker and easy going Sam Cooke-esque lyrics, this live version transcends genres and is an instant party classic. “Nikki’s Secret Century” is best saved for last as it is as wild as it gets. Afterward, everybody needs a break. As he boasts he will be remembered for centuries — bravado that is akin to hip hop swagger — he is touching both the past and the present.

Sticking to his assertion that he is forging a new hybrid genre, “Zydeco Happy” is exhibit A in his alternative zydeco argument (which also counts his studio cover of “Hotline Bling”). Launching from Pharrell’s ubiquitous cut, he spits lines from Janelle Monáe’s neo-soul “Tightrope” as he manages to weave the two into his brand of zydeco and breathes new life into “Happy” — a song that is well over its 15 minutes of fame. In another, off-the-cuff moment, “Artmosphere Name Jam,” the album’s hidden track is a funky breakdown jam that reinforces the playful and free-flowing nature of what live music should be.

Be it part alternative zydeco diversity, part Ardoin legacy, part Beau Jocque jams, Sean Ardoin makes it his own and pounds it through the speakers in the incendiary Live at the Chicken Run.

Nick Pittman is a freelance entertainment and feature writer. To contact him, email [email protected].