The first two tracks on Michael Doucet’s new album are solid Cajun stuff. They are rollicking tracks like those at which Doucet’s old band, BeauSoleil, excelled — but nothing unusual. Then it changes: Lâcher Prise gives you many more spicy crawfish than the usual gumbo.
Whether it is the sultry ballad “Abandonne,” the decadent-nightclub number “Bad Woman,” or the Grappelli-esque “Cajun Gypsy,” this album takes numerous styles and douses them with a hefty sprinkle of Cajun flavor. The track “Chère Émilie” even sounds a bit like English folk in parts.
Lâcher Prise, which is also the name of Doucet’s new band, does mean “to let go,” after all. That is just what it does — it releases its genre grip.
What all the numbers have in common, of course, is splendid fiddle work from Doucet (although violinist would be a better term on occasions). This is not surprising given his decades of work in Cajun, blues, jazz, country, and zydeco. Not for nothing was Doucet awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in 2005, America’s highest accolade for folk and traditional arts. It puts him in the exalted company of Bill Monroe, Wanda Jackson, John Lee Hooker, Earl Scruggs, and Mavis Staples, among others.
It is hard to pick stand-out tracks because there are lots. But you could do worse than start with one in Cajun French, “Dites Moi Pas,” and one in English, “Walking on a Mardi Gras Day.”
The former (trans: “Don’t Tell Me”) is a slow and gentle song about love, featuring a sweet vocal break from Sarah Quintana. (The band also includes Chad Viator on guitar, Chris French on bass, and Jim Kolacek on drums.) The haunting “Walking on a Mardi Gras Day,” meanwhile, tells the tale of a man strolling through the Vieux Carré on New Orleans’ most famous day, thinking of a lost love:
Crying through my mask so nobody will see / Lover, how much you meant to me
Also worth a good play is Doucet’s rendition of Bobby Charles’ “He’s Got All the Whiskey,” a bluesy number with soaring violin about want and jealousy that includes the lines:
He’s got all the whiskey, but he just won’t give me none
He’s got all the money, but he just won’t give me none
He’s got all the women, but he just won’t give me one
He’s even got religion, but he just can’t teach me one
But as I say, there are lots of stand-outs. This is a very playable album, indeed.