Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 29

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We spent much of the day on the road, heading to Oxford and the premier of the documentary SUB-SIPPI and saying a sorrowful goodbye to the best trip to New Orleans we’d ever taken. Of course, no trip in an Overeem vehicle will be unaccompanied by music, and I must make a fervent pitch to my readers about one rekkid we listened to en route: Beausoleil’s FROM BAMAKO TO CARENCRO. I would argue, and few, I believe, would dispute me, that Beausoleil is and has been the finest Cajun band on the planet for decades. Leader Micheal Doucet is a genius fiddler and a highly underrated and very passionate vocalist…and crafty. Guitarist David Doucet, as I noted a couple of days ago, is such a skilled, ringing, and fluid guitar player he begs comparison to the great Doc Watson. The rest of the band are no slouches. However, with bands this great comes consistency, and haunting consistency is ennui (really, that’s the listener’s fault), and that syndrome may be the reason you don’t hear them talked about much anymore. In the case of FROM BAMAKO TO CARENCRO that is unfortunate. Along with the usual spirited originals and traditional songs one expects from a Beausoleil album, the Doucets engineer several daring and successful experiments: a moving, desert-tinged tribute to their fellow humans in Mali; an audacious and slyly joyful ride through Trane’s “Bessie’s Blues” (jazzers never cover that!); a visit north to Mississippi to convert Fred McDowell’s “You Got to Move” to Cajun funeral music; and, perhaps MOST audacious, an assault on that great LIVE AT THE APOLLO opener, “I’ll Go Crazy.” Even P.J. Proby couldn’t pull THAT off–and I can just imagine how the band’s faithful cut a rug to it in concert. I would link tracks, but they aren’t up on everyone’s free platform, YouTube. Just trust me: this is the best Beausoleil album, and thus the best Cajun album, in years (their last, ALLIGATOR PURSE, was also stellar) and you MUST buy it. That’s an order. Here is the Spotify link for the album, at least.

In Oxford, we heard some great soul music while we were dining at Ajax’s on the square (specifically, Ann Peebles’ “99 Pounds”), and, as I had at Coleman’s BBQ in Senatobia last week, I looked around at the older white diners and wondered what they were thinking and feeling in ’63 and ’64. You never know. But James Meredith’s statue at Ole Miss got vandalized about a month ago, and time takes its time making things go away.

Go see SUB-SIPPI. I was under the influence of medicine and not at my best, but it is a thoughtful and hopeful commentary on the many good things about the state. My favorite segment focused on a black elementary student who had turned to gardening to help him manage his behavior. The screening was at The Lyric Theater, and was preceded by a band performance (The Blues Doctors, and that’s how they sounded–it’s a horrible band name, but the duo were likely both actual physicians) and–the bane of concertgoing, in my not-so-humble opinion–a DJ set. I am not sure what place bad ambient rhythm had at such an event, but, as Nicole often says, it always sounds like porno music, say, from some glossy Japanese urban erotic film. I know this would be a stretch, but how about some music from…MISSISSIPPI? It wouldn’t have to be blues, just local. And don’t tell me the DJ’s constructions were original, and therefore regional; the closest he got was a snatch of Gil Scot Heron–and he was from Kentucky.

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