Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys CD Review
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
By Grant Britt
Since 1998, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have been pushing the envelope of Cajun music, mixing electrified rock with traditional Cajun melodies. Ironically, that has led to the band losing part of its trademark sound. Due to serious hearing problems created by the volume of the band’s live sound, fiddler/ saxophonist and Playboys co-founder David Greeley had to leave the band, ending his 23 year partnership with Riley as their latest record came out.
Riley and Greeley honed their traditional skills studying and playing with Cajun fiddle master Dewey Balfa and focused on traditional Cajun music for their first two albums as Playboys. But by their third, the Playboys were writing their own material, still singing in French, but incorporating the blues/rock mix of Zydeco, and swamp pop as well.
Their latest is their most ambitious mix of genres yet. The aptly titled “C’est L’heure Pour Changer/ This Is the Time For Change,” incorporates ska so effortlessly it sounds like its always been rubbing shoulders with Cajun chanky-chank. The song is a tribute to a Grand Isle, La resident’s photo display in her living room of oil saturated wildlife from the BP oil disaster.
Redoing Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rein/No regrets”as swamp pop is genius. Emmylou Harris did it straight in’94, but putting Piaf in ‘50s laid back pop regalia alongside Phil Phillips’ ‘59 hit “Sea of Love” and Dale and Grace’s ‘63 “I’m Leavin’ It All Up to You” works so well you can imagine couples swaying beerily to it in swampy honky tonks for years to come.
“Honest Papas Love Their Mothers” is rocking Cajun honky-tonk with a French accent.
The pedal steel on “Grand Isle” stamps it as country and writer Greeley cow punches it even more with some greasy fiddle.
The Playboys venture into uncharted territory with their inclusion of New Orleans-based swamp noise rocker Mr. Quintron’s “Chatterbox,” clubbing it into submission with a stiff Zydeco backbeat
Although Greeley’s input as writer, singer/fiddler/saxophonist and Cajun historian in the band leaves a huge hole, it won’t be the end for Riley, who switches back and forth from accordion to fiddle and sings most of the tunes. The Playboys will undoubtedly keep on expanding the Cajun sound he’s rooted in. Cherish this record as a fitting tribute to Greeley’s work, but look forward to a new beginning, not an end to Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.