Cajun music has been, by design, a reflection of very literal motion. In essence, it was born out of the forced migration of French speaking settlers from Canadian regions in and around present day Nova Scotia to Southern Louisiana in the mid 18th century.
But last night at the Kentucky Theatre, with an eager audience held tight in its seats, BeauSoleil’s brilliant acoustic Cajun waltzes, two steps and jigs suggested a more congenial motion – namely that of feet on a dance floor.
Obviously, this weekly taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour wasn’t a barn dance. And, yes, watching BeauSoleil founder and fiddler Michael Doucet lead his band of 30-plus years through the regal and highly joyous music of Cajun and Creole cultures was a delight. But exiting the Kentucky last night, a patron succinctly summed up exactly what the WoodSongs set lacked: “Cold beer, hot food and a dance floor.”
OK, so the party element of this Cajun celebration was on the contained side. But that hardly muted the cultural and historical riches of BeauSoleil’s music. In the former category was 451 North St. Joseph St., where bassist Mitchell Reed opted to play double fiddle with Doucet in the animated style of the tune’s famed Cajun composer, Dennis McGee. Accenting the groove were the modest but seasoned sounds of accordion, snare drum and triangle along with guitarwork courtesy of the bandleader’s brother, David Doucet.
But history, sometimes very dark pages of it, triggered the set’s most stirring tunes. On L’Ouragon (The Hurricane), wistful fiddle lines illuminated a more ominous shuffle on a Doucet original inspired not by Katrina but by an unnamed 1893 hurricane that took 1,600 lives in Louisiana.
Less dire but equally emotive was Recherche d’Acadie (In Search of Acadie), a meditation on migration suggestive in its slower passages of a more funereal mood.
While such tunes introduced a sobering measure of real life into the set, the majority of Doucet’s music possessed an effervescence that made sitting stationary in a theatre seat something of a challenge.
Kolinda, for instance, sported a vocal bounce from Doucet that was as animated as his fiddle playing while a Cajun-ized take on Julie Miller’s Little Darlin’ added some Appalachian fire to BeauSoleil’s Creole drive. Best of all was Marie, a traditional tune that steered closer to New Orleans for a poppish flavor that generously referenced Fats Domino.
But the latter song’s fiddle solo, steeped in some otherworldly tuning that made the strings wheeze when they weren’t swinging, outlined precisely the musical culture and environment Doucet has spent his entire adult life preserving.
Last night, from the politely seated environment of WoodSongs, Doucet’s sounds of soul and spice didn’t sit still for a minute.