If there is a feature of Zydeco music that sets this hybrid of blues apart, it may be the relentlessly upbeat, let’s-party vibe that permeates so much of it. Where a traditional blues may be about a lowdown woman doing a man wrong, a Zydeco song will more likely be about how she makes a great jambalaya and is fun at barbeques. The Bayou Brothers have established themselves locally and beyond as a fixture of the form since the late ‘90s, snagged awards (2013 SDMA Best Blues Artists among them), been regulars at festivals, and recorded — including their new CD, High Roller Zydeco.
The lineup includes John Chambers (accordion/keys/vocals), Ric Lee (drums), Jack Stephens (guitar/vocals), Danny “Basscat” Perez (bass/vocals), Judy Seid (rubboard/vocals), and Jessica Lee (rubboard). The dozen tunes mix covers and band originals, but the sound is consistent throughout: these folks are having a good time, and want the listener to as well.
The disc draws its name from a spirited Beau Jacque cover, “High Rollers In Town,” as Chambers’ squeeze-box punctuates the chunky, soul beat and Stephens cuts loose for some fleet-fingered moments (his soloing throughout sounds not unlike Creamy Clapton or Jeff Beck in their fast gears). Not much changes for “We Gonna Party,” but that’s fine, as a hot solo by Chambers is in the spotlight this time. Clifton Chenier is sort of the Godfather of Zydeco, and his tune here is “Big Mamou” and it is a highlight that rocks like a powerhouse, following a booming Perez bass line into another showcase for Stephens, who fills the air with fluid blues notes.
The band finally slows down a bit on “Elizabeth, What’s Your Secret?” catching its breath on a blues number built on accordion, nicely decorated with acoustic guitar lines. “Pick It Up” is a lot of fun, as Seid takes the lead vocal to ask, “Hey Johnny, why you taking little pills?” and Chambers answers “To pick it up,” since the pills are Viagra. The band steps slightly out of the box on “Bayou Party,” which is a full-force soul dance number without much of a Zydeco groove, but works in hot guitar breaks, some Stax-sounding organ work, and the bridges from the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body to the Ground,” it’s a sure winner in live shows.
“Zydeco Rhino” clicks with some of the best drumming on the disc by Ric Lee and more good-time, wacky lyrics; yeah, it’s about a rhinoceros encountered at a gig. Covering classic songs is rarely a bad idea, and Roy Head’s iconic blues rocker “Treat Her Right” is given the Bayou Brothers treatment to wrap the disc, working surprisingly well — instead of the horn riffs and guitar solo that are hard-wired into the listener’s brain, they play accordion/bass hooks that keep the flow going, then let Stephens burn the frets off at the end.
The Bayou Brothers’ High Roller Zydeco is infectious and fun, not to be missed by fans of all types of roots music.