Voyageurs - Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys

Mamou Playboys Records

 

Canadians and Cajuns share a rich francophone heritage that straddles the 49th parallel. For the Cajuns, it was a long trip out of Acadia (today’s Canadian Maritime provinces). After the British conquered the French in 1710, the ragin’ Cajuns’ ancestors, the Acadians refused to pledge allegiance to the British crown and left in exile in search of a new land to call home. That would be today’s State of Louisiana. Meanwhile, back in the frozen north, the fur trade was making legends of the French Canadian voyageurs who side-stepped the cultural fracas by taking off, eh? Their portages were the stuff of true pioneering exploration, their tales embraced in Francophone legend; their canoes became chasse-galerie (the enchanted canoe). A painting of the enchanted canoe and mystic voyageurs by artist Leroy Evans graces the cover of and gives title to the Mamou Playboys’ 14th album. “I saw that picture with its Sgt. Pepper feel, and knew this was it, the cover for our new album,” explains Steve Riley. “A lot of the songs on the record are about travels. There is all this imagery that’s really striking, all the things you had to go through, to leave your home and take your music and your message around the world. You bring what you need with you and you keep pushing forward.” Riley and his band mates have always pushed Cajun forward, keeping it relevant; never letting the dust settle. It’s this quality of Cajun innovation that also opens the door to the music and the culture for the uninitiated, who can find familiar threads of rock, country the blues and Zydeco in Voyageurs’ tracks. Familiar as he is with the intricacies of Cajun music and lore, Riley toys with convention right from the get go. The album opener and immediate favorite, ‘Au revoir Grand Mamou’ says goodbye to his hometown. “There are a bunch of songs about coming back to Mamou,”says Riley with a wink. “I thought it was time to try something different.” For a world fed on mainstream sameness, Voyageurs is decidedly different, full of real dirt and grit, sweet harmonies, and heartfelt pathos. Yet, like a New Orleans street funeral, there’s plenty of brash celebration as well. Another fave celebrates the great Mardi Gras through the writing of a Cajun fiddle master, Dewey Balfa and ‘Le danse de Mardi Gras’. Now approaching legendary status themselves, the Mamou Playboys are at the top of their game and continue to pursue challenge. Riley turns conventional Cajun accordion playing on end for ‘Malcolm’s Reel’ and the capper, ‘Bottle It Up’. Riley calls that one a real finger twister. “After we play this song, I feel like I’ve been pushed to the limits, But it’s a lot of fun!”