|Lost Bayou Ramblers add electronic overdubs to modernize Louisiana music|
Think you know what Cajun music sounds like? Think again. For the past couple of years, the critical response to Lost Bayou Ramblers’ live appearances has been the stuff of underground legend. Last year, photos of their crowd-surfing acoustic bass became the unintentional symbol of a “people’s uprising” at what some argue is the increasingly over-programmed and commercially overwhelming New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival—a reprinted snapshot with a subtext that spoke cheerfully of active cultural rebellion.
And for those brave critics eager to capture the unexpected intensity and liberating impulsiveness of a live Lost Bayou Ramblers’ show, the idea of a punk-rock version of Cajun music has been the most easily available explanation.
But it is more complicated than that. To hear fiddler, vocalist and bandleader Louis Michot tell it, punk rock has nothing to do with how the Lost Bayou Ramblers sound today. Instead, the deepest strains of Cajun tradition lie at the heart of the band’s unique sound.
To drive the point home, the band has released its first studio album in six years. Mammoth Waltz, an electronic song cycle replete with unexpected guest stars like actress and singer Scarlett
Johansson, French actress and singer Nora Arnezeder, Dr. John and Gordon Gano—former front man of the Violent Femmes—will unquestionably challenge every preconception you’ve ever had about the Cajun music traditions of southwest Louisiana.
“If you look at Mammoth Waltz compared to any of our previous albums, or just any Cajun album, it may sound like it just came out of the blue,” Michot says. “But really, it’s been a natural progression for us. We’ve always been experimental when we play live. This is just the first time we’ve unleashed that energy in the studio. We think it’s the first album of its kind—that we’ve taken Cajun music much farther into the future, while still staying within the tradition, than anyone else has so far.”
As far as the Cajun punk-rock label goes, Michot has a hard time buying it.
“I know people say what we do has a punk edge to it, or that’s it’s like indie rock, but I’m never sure what that means,” he says. “My musical tastes have always been, like, classic rock from the British invasion, or blues, Cajun music and Zydeco, and I like lots of world music, too. But I’ve never been one to listen to punk or indie rock or much new music at all. The truth is I just like to push hard at the music. I’m not okay with playing a song ‘lightly.’ I like to bring a certain intensity to the music.”
The band’s fan base tends to be located in equal parts in down-home Louisiana and more urban bohemian enclaves in cities like Brooklyn, Austin and New Orleans. But Michot insists the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ take on Cajun music remains very much a part of Cajun music history.
“Within Cajun music,” he explains, “my main influences have always been musicians who play that really old-time sound, like Amédé Ardoin, the Breaux Brothers, Cleoma & Joe Falcon, Iry LeJeune, Wayne Toups, people like that. If you listen to that music, you’ll see Cajun musicians have always played a wide range of stuff, not just sedate waltzes and two-steps.”
Michot says it is this love of traditional sounds and a desire to play intensely that has branded Lost Cajun Ramblers with a sound all their own.
“That’s basically what we’re after, and I like to think our forte really is that we can play pure Cajun music that Cajuns like, but we play it in a way that lots of other people like, too. So it kind of appeals to a wide range of audiences. That’s our mission, really, to bring Cajun music to people who might not have listened to it before.”
The band performs live seven times this month and next at various venues in New Orleans and Lafayette. For tour dates and more information, visit lostbayouramblers.com
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