CD of the Month

GOLDMAN THIBODEAUX AND THE LAWTELL PLAYBOYS: La Danse à St. Ann’s

Nouveau Electric Records NER 1011 (60:15)

Two-Step De St. Anne/ J’ai Plus De Place Pour Aller/ J’ai Essayer Te Faire M’aimer/ Allons Sur Le Plancher/ Allons Danser/ Valse De Les Misere/ Je T’aime Autant/ Lucille/ Jolie Catin/ Watch That Dog/ Blues De Goldman/ J’etais Au Bal/Zydeco Sont Pas Sale/ Pauvre Hobo/ Jongle À Moi/ Parole

This new album is a real surprise and delight for fans of Louisiana music. Goldman Thibodeaux, aged 87, is a living legend and one of the last musicians performing in the traditional French Creole style. I had the pleasure of seeing him at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the Fais Do-Do Stage, where he and the Lawtell Playboys entranced listeners and moved the many dancers with their music. Goldman and the Playboys have been a regular act for twenty years at JazzFest. They were scheduled to perform at this year’s Festival, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Thibodeaux may be one of the last living musicians to have seen the legendary Amédé Ardoin perform when he was a child. The Lawtell Playboys were founded in 1946 by brothers Bébé and Eraste Carriere. Bébé, known as the ‘King of the Zydeco Fiddle,’ played alongside his brother Eraste, on accordion, for many years. Over time, Eraste passed the accordion position to Delton Broussard while Bébé passed the position of fiddle player to Eraste’s son, Calvin Carriere. Goldman learned to play accordion in his fifties after a heart attack. When Delton became ill, he passed the accordion position to Goldman. Calvin and Goldman played for several years before recording their first CD in 2001 titled ‘Les Miseres Dans le Coeur.’ Before he passed, Calvin asked Goldman to take over the band and continue using the name ‘Lawtell Playboys’.

‘La Danse à St. Ann’s’ was recorded by Mark Bingham at the Thibodeaux Family Reunion, November 2019 in Mallett, Louisiana. Bingham and the band’s fiddle player Louis Michot (co-founder of Lost Bayou Ramblers) produced this remarkable document. This recording was made at a church hall with hundreds of family members gathered. The Lawtell Playboys’ line-up at this performance was: Goldman Thibodeaux accordion and vocals; Brock Thibodeaux frottoir; Louis Michot fiddle and vocals; Courtney Jeffries acoustic guitar; Justin Leger electric bass; and Barry Cormier drums and vocals.

It is marvellous to hear the traditional Louisiana creole music as heard here, starting with a marvellous two-step, ‘Two-step de St-Ann’s’. This driving number showcases not only Thibodeaux’s one-button accordion-playing but Michot’s down-home fiddle set against a simple rhythm groove. Much of the music here goes back to the La La music style that preceded zydeco, including irresistible fast dance numbers like ‘Allons Sur la Plancher’, ‘Allons Dancer’, and relaxed waltzes such as ‘Valse des Miseres’. There are more modern numbers like the blues ‘Lucille’, a staple of Clifton Chenier’s repertoire, ‘Watch That Dog’, evoking the late Boozoo Chavis, and ‘Pauvre Hobo’, a reworking of the Cajun fiddler Harry Choates’ Cajun swing recording.

Goldman Thibodeaux sings and plays with the robustness of a younger man. Added to the charm of these performances are some of the comments included. For example, Goldman announces that food is ready, and folks can get their plates and meals. The final track is an intermission announcement for all the family members to go outside the Church Hall, where a drone will take a family picture. This atmosphere adds to the charm of the marvellous music presented here.

Ron Weinstock

ALABAMA MIKE: Hip You To My Blues

Big Tone Records 246 (48:00)

Black Cadillac/ I’m Selfish/ California Blues/ Frustrate My Life/ 20% Alcohol/ Diabetic Man/ Cut That Out/ How You Want Your Rollin Done?/ V-8 Ford Blues/ Hip You To My Blues/ Stop Accusing That Woman/ I’m In Love With A Woman/ Hello Central/ Keep My Grave Clean/ I Feel So Good

It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson’s new label. Alabama Mike’s earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 2017’s ‘Double Strike,’ often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor. 

This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin’ Hopkins flavour along with some tracks that evoke early ’50s Chicago style. This recording reflects Alabama Mike’s long-burning desire to ‘do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers….’ 

The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson and Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow and Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core and Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.

Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin’ Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening ‘Black Cadillac’ (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavour. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swampy ‘California Blues,’ with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.

A reworking of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s ‘Cut That Out’ sounds like a down-home version of Junior Wells 1950’s recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on ‘Diabetic Man’ with Wilson on the harp. On ‘How You Want Your Rollin Done,’ Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker-styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good,’ Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. ‘Keep My Grave Clean’ is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto’s Delmark recording.

A moody rendition of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’ with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike’s singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.

Ron Weinstock

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