Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Cajun Country Revival - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 31st May 2016

It was the night a small corner of South West Louisiana came to the Birmingham suburb of Kings Heath. It was also the night a few folks gambled on a musical style that was slightly left field. One thing for sure was that few would argue that the Cajun Country Revival left any of this Kitchen Garden Café audience short changed. Perhaps all that was missing was a hearty serving of gumbo or a delicious portion of jambalaya in the interval, but that could be food for thought!

A major factor in the success of this show was the sheer quality and stature of the four musicians accumulated for this collaboration of one of the purest strands of American roots music you could wish to hear. Anybody with any knowledge of Cajun music (and that is not a precursor for extracting great pleasure from attending the show) would be aware of the Savoy family and we were fortunate to be blessed with the presence of Joel who assumes the role of band leader for the Cajun Country Revival. One half of this combo is sealed with the interaction between fiddle playing Joel and the accordion maestro Jesse Lége. Listening to Jesse’s playing for a couple of hours, taking on board Joel’s accolades and following up with some background research reveals him as one of the greats of Cajun music with numerous awards bestowed upon him.

The other half of the quartet that comprises the Cajun Country Revival have their roots a lot further north than the state hugging the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Bassist Nadine Landry hails from Quebec with the obvious Francophile link between her heritage and the roots of Cajun. Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind completes the line-up, predominately played guitar during the show, but sporadically gave a fiddle playing masterclass when in tandem with Joel. He and Nadine are also members of the Foghorn Stringband, operating out of Portland Oregon, and bring a touch of traditional old time country music to the fuller sound of the Cajun Country Revival.

Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege
The spontaneous nature of the show added to the mystique with each band member introducing tunes on the spot and Joel continually stretching the extensive knowledge bank of Jesse. It was a privilege to be in the listening vicinity of such accomplished fiddle and accordion playing as the evolving set list raked up many a Cajun waltz, reel and tune hailing the soundtrack of a Louisiana Saturday night. Occasionally there was a geographical shift when a Bill Monroe tune was played and Nadine sang the Loretta Lynn song ‘Tippy Toeing’. These showed the intrinsic link between traditional country and Cajun music with seamless quality and effect.

With the vocals of Jesse being predominately in Cajun French, we were reliant on Joel’s enlightened introductions, which increasingly became a valuable theme of the evening, as the lingual element. However we learned the background of a wide range of traditional Cajun numbers, of which a fair few circumnavigate the party atmosphere famous for that part of the USA. This extended to proclaiming the virtue of rural Louisiana music as opposed to that from New Orleans and the story surrounding the re-staging of Mardi Grass in Joel’s hometown during the first few days of Lent to appease the team from the HBO TV blockbuster Treme.

Joel, Jesse, Nadine and Sammy were just coming to the end of their UK tour when popping into the Kitchen Garden Café and I’m sure would be welcome back anytime in the future. They had to slightly adjust to playing to a seated audience as their style is much more suited to a gathering on their feet. Maybe next time whip away the chairs and create that Louisiana Saturday night feeling that is synonymous with Cajun music. Cajun Country Revival gets the big thumbs up here and provides a timely reminder to the incredible wealth of American roots music. 

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