Bye Bye Bayou
, October 22nd, 2012 05:19
[180x180[<]It really doesn't work on paper- a Swiss band, with a Lebanese-born singer, playing Louisiana Cajun music with a garage-punk twist. The presence of Jon Spencer as producer- on this, the band's fifth album- lends credibility however, and indeed this is immediately borne out upon listening. Put simply, who cares about authenticity when the results are as thrilling as this?
Like all the best rock & roll, Bye Bye Bayou is a gumbo pot of tradition and innovation, roots music and radical reinvention, respect for the past and a ragged-ass leap into the future; a wild-eyed desire to fuck shit up and get the party started. This is certainly no reverential re-tread of the sound of somebody else's grandparents' culture, not just another case of middle class European white boys trying to play the blues, or bluegrass, for that matter. Under Spencer's direction, every track here is splintered and warped, forced broken and bleeding into the present moment; every instrument pushed into the red, wrapped in reverb, distortion and extraneous noise. This is psychedelic Cajun punk voodoo rockabilly dance music; some Swiss Dadaists just put CBGBs in a swamp and spiked the chilli sauce with Sandoz acid. Can you dig it?
Opening with the honking, squeaking, creaking rock & roll shuffle of 'Marilou', Cyril Yeterian's distorted yodelling vocals switch between English and French- the preferred language for most of the album, and the tongue in which Cajun is traditionally sung- over the repeated stab of his fuzzed-up melodeon. 'Sorry Ti Monde' crashes in like Radio Birdman, driving one-note piano and Xavier Bray's reverberating, hammering drums, with ghostly, screaming backing vocals, all sounding wonderfully murky yet dynamic, and 'Parait Qu'y A Pas L'Temps' finds the melodeon riding a scuzzy rhythm track, the feel for the groove - loose but tight - on a par with classic Stones or Faces, complete with marvellously greasy slide guitar.
Mama Rosin could get by purely on their impeccable rock & roll dynamics, but the trio are always keen to throw a curveball into the mix; on 'Casse Mes Objets' (You Broke My Stuff), a raw Cajun melodeon riff and battering drums give way to a crazy psychedelic breakdown, Robin Girod's rapidly descending fairground guitar lines disintegrating into feverish echo. 'Wivenhoe' – a bizarre tribute to the Essex town where the band apparently played some memorable shows - again has a punk Stones-Faces feel, but livened up by scratching and burbling electronic effects, which could sound forced and tokenistic, but in fact just adds to the raw strangeness of the track. On 'Black Samedi,' slow swamp drums struggle through a murky wash of echo and slide, with Matt Verta-Ray guesting on strangled saxophone shrieks. Howling vocals and a vicious, distorted no-note guitar solo add up to a masterpiece of unhinged, bad trip psychedelia. And when the haunting, echo chamber blues of 'Mama Don't' finally erupt into a train-wreck zydeco groove, the return to traditional structure is more surprising than if they'd stayed floating in space.
Sometimes though it's the straight-up song-craft that's the most affecting; the Hispanic-flavoured folk-rock of 'Seco E Mulhado', played loose and ragged in a foreboding minor key, or the rough-edged ballad 'I Don't Feel at Home,' expressing the existential loneliness of a life of constant touring. It's tempting too to read the song as a lament from a band who just can't feel at ease in a world of pro-tools and iPhones, who long for mythical simpler times when all you had to do was get up and play. But unless playing like your life depended on it is old-fashioned, unless making everything sound as raw and messed-up as possible is passé, unless melody and rhythm and singing from the gut are yesterday's news, Mama Rosin are far from a nostalgia act. Bye Bye Bayou is all about this moment. Break out the hot sauce, there's a party going on!