Written by Fantasma el Rey
When I think of Cajun music I think of a real old-school barber I knew that went by the name Frenchy and was born and made frequent trips back to Louisiana. A very lively fellow was Frenchy and he would always have good Cajun music playing as you walked into to get your hair cut. Most times as you were seated, he would offer you a beer. Back in the day, I was just a kid of 21 and got a hoot out of it. Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys are a band that I think ol’ Frenchy would have enjoyed and he probably knew all about them, seeing as how they have been on the scene since 1988.
The Mamou Playboys carry on the tradition of Cajun music and add spices of their own to kick it up a bit and get the crowd moving. When they started in ’88, they where a group of young men lead by Steve Riley, who was nineteen, that wanted to play and sound just like the old timers they loved so much. As they gigged around and improved on their sound they began to add more of their other musical influences to forge a sound that is modern yet traditional at the same time. These Playboys have done it well for twenty years now and make it stick to your ears like gumbo to your ribs. The band has gone through a few members in their time, replacing some here and there as needed do to death or departures. This 31-track best-of set is a great way to get to know Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys and what they do well.
The Cajun sound is solid throughout featuring accordion, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and bass and the triangle for percussion, but the Playboys take it beyond, adding some rock and roll flavor to the mix with the way the electric guitars, bass, and thundering drums are delivered. Classic Cajun jump tunes abound in the likes of “Evangeline Waltz Two-Step,” “Pointe Aux Chenes (Pine Point),” “Laisse-Moi Connaître (Let Me Know),” “Lawrence Walker Medley ” and “Between Eunice and Opelousas,” the later two tunes being instrumental gold. They can even hit you with Southern rock as they do well on “Menteur (Liar).”
On the other side of the coin there are the slow songs that at times have a bluegrass feel to them. “Lovers Waltz” is a slow number that you can two-step your girl around the dance floor to while “Marie Mouri (Marie Has Died)” and “Vini, Jilie (Come, Jilie)” are Cajun tunes that go way back and are actually taken from poems. “Vine, Jilie” has an Eagles type sound to the vocals and arrangement, finding Steve’s voice sounding country. “Marie Mouri” is a mournful track that can be likened to the sound of the Stanley Brothers lonesome hill music.
Group harmony shines bright on “Les Clefs De La Prison (The Keyes To The Prison)” and “La Danse De Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Song)” and showcase what the boys can do together. While “Je Suis Pas Un Couillon (I’m Not A Fool)” is dripping with a 1950’s R&B vibe much like the bands that came from Louisiana during that time, bands like Cookie and The Cupcakes or Jivin’ Jean and The Jokers. When the boys blend their voices, they sound great, and let me not forget that even though Steve handles most lead vocal chores there are tunes where other band members take the mic.
To close each disc the Playboys switch up a bit and add a Rubboard to the mix for two outstanding Zydeco numbers: “King Zydeco” on the first while “Zarico Est Pas Sale (Zydeco Is Not Salty)” closes out the two-disc set. Both cuts jump and make you move, showing again that Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys can handle all styles with ease and putting their own little spin to them. If you’re a fan, then you should have this material already. If you’re not, you will be after you go out and grab this fine collection of the Best Of Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys.