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Honest, borderless, Mammoth music
Lost Bayou Ramblers find buried Cajun sound, and give it another life on new album.
Cajun rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not simply rock from southern Louisiana. Instead, it’s Cajun music — the Acadiana music of accordion and fiddle with Cajun French-sung lyrics — fused with intense, raw rock ‘n’ roll. Loud, distortion-drenched electric guitar and drumming with a wallop.
It’s the sound of Lafayette, La.’s Lost Bayou Ramblers. The sound heard on the quartet’s “Carolina Blues” — first recorded by legendary Cajun musician Nathan Abshire — from their early 2012 release Mammoth Waltz. The Ramblers — brothers Louis Michot on fiddle and lead vocals and Andre Michot on accordion and lap steel, along with Cavan Carruth on guitar and vocals and Pauly Deathwish on drums and vocals — amp-up the primal urgency of Abshire’s take. Enfolding the tune’s fiddle- and accordion-powered rhythm in guitar feedback and a throbbing drum beat. And Louis Michot howls as if his life depends on it: “Ma ti-bébé m’a quitté pour/S’en aller avec un autre (My little baby left me/To go with another).”
The track is harsh sounding; the beat infectious. It surges and drives. The accordion is brawny and the drums energetic. It’s the Cajun music of the ‘40s, electrified and sped up slightly. Punk sounding in its simplistic aggression, but revealing Cajun music’s beautiful complexity.
“To us, [early Cajun music] sounds a lot more raunchy and punk rock,” Carruth says. “I guess our outlook is it would have been great if it would have kept going in that direction. I guess it kind of got co-opted in the late ‘60s by the folk movement, whether it was intentional or not. To me it sounds a lot more tame and quiet. Kind of Sunday music. To us, though, it was a question of what if that hadn’t happened. It might’ve moved in a lot more rock ‘n’ roll direction, kind of where it was at one point.”
Carruth, who grew up in Lafayette but calls Austin, Texas, home now, first started playing with the Michot brothers around 2002, during the very early days of what became the Lost Bayou Ramblers. The music early on was more traditional acoustic Cajun, much like the music the brothers’ father and uncles played in the family band Les Freres Michot. The fiddle, the accordion, the acoustic guitar. But Carruth and the brothers played “in a rock ‘n’ roll cover and originals band, playing ‘50s country to Swedish rock and everything in between” before the start of Lost Bayou Ramblers as well, Carruth says. Still, the band’s early recordings, including the 2007 release Live: A La Blue Moon — Grammy-nominated for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music album — were mostly acoustic.
But with the recording of Mammoth Waltz at Dockside Studio in Maurice, La., the band experimented with its sound, recording an 11-track album produced by Korey Richey (Givers) of covers of early accordion dance-hall tunes and Cajun swing along with originals. The album includes guest spots from Louisiana legend Dr. John, the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, French star and Oscar-nominated singer Nora Arnezeder and actress and singer Scarlett Johansson.
“Probably half the album is covers, whether they be 60 years old or 20 years old,” Carruth says. “The originals are generally Louis with ideas and melodies — sometimes lyrics and sometimes not — and we built them up from that.”
The sound is raucous, rollicking rock ‘n’ roll at points; hauntingly beautiful at others, especially on a cover of Daniel Lanois’ “O Marie.” The band’s sound mixes ‘40s Cajun music, early Mississippi blues and Texas swing with the band’s newer influences. You hear the band’s live take on The Who’s “My Generation,” complete with Cajun-French lyrics, and you understand what the Lost Bayou Ramblers think they can do with the music of their ancestors.
“Even when we were playing all acoustic we had the kind of attitude and approach [of a rock band],” Carruth says. “It just wasn’t very loud or dynamic. I think we got to the point where we were like, ‘Why restrict it?’ We can do whatever we want with it. We are all very well-versed in the Led Zeppelin catalog. It got to the point where staying all acoustic was not contrived, but it was like we were making that extra effort to sort of restrain the situation. Or limit it just because we thought we had to.”
The resulting sound of the Lost Bayou Ramblers is an honest sound. And borderless. But the band is just beginning to tinker with its Cajun music roots. It’s Cajun rock ‘n’ roll, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers will decide the direction of their music.
“I don’t think any of us are where we want to be with it right now,” Carruth says. “[Mammoth Waltz] was kind of a first step. I think the best is yet to come.
“We don’t want to limit the instrumentation, so why limit the technology? It’s always going to have that Cajun influence, but there’s no reason it has to be the same thing.”