Ann Savoy and Others

Fans of genuine Cajun music might have cringed to hear of this particular compilation. After all, it features singing -- en français, mind you -- by established pop and rock music industry insiders, all of whom are clearly outsiders to the distinctive culture of Acadiana. We're talking a star-glazed roster that ranges from West Coast pop chanteuse Linda Ronstadt to former New York Doll David Johansen to British rocker Nick Lowe. But before any purists reflexively cough up their boudin, they should open their minds and ears and listen carefully to this well-crafted album. Mon Dieu, it's good!

Credit for that achievement rests largely with producer Ann Savoy, who also sings two brilliant duets with Ronstadt and plays guitar or fiddle on most of the tracks. Wife and longtime musical partner of full-blooded Cajun recording artist and accordion maker Marc Savoy, she gracefully assumed the roles of language tutor, cultural consultant and studio muse to bring this project to fruition.

Recorded in various locations, both in Louisiana and beyond, Evangeline Made nonetheless consistently and convincingly evokes the sonic moods, textures and story-song traditions that the multitalented Savoy first documented in her 1985 book, Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People. How so?

For starters, the instrumentalists are, for the most part, the real deal. A quick check of the backing musician credits reads like a who's who of contemporary Cajun music-making. In addition to Marc and Ann Savoy, there are Michael and David Doucet (founders of the band Beausoleil), Christine Balfa, Steve Riley, Sonny Landreth and many others. Then there's the savvy song selection, which encompasses dance-hall romps, heart-rending ballads, sharecropper ditties and bluesy shuffles -- all while avoiding done-to-death Cajun standards such as "Jolie Blonde."

But ultimately none of the above would count for much if the singing lacked authenticity. To their credit (and Ann Savoy's) the non-Cajuns get it right -- both the pronunciation and the passion. Patty Griffin beautifully relates the traditional ballad "Pa Janvier, Laisse Moi M'en Aller" like a young Evangeline maid pleading for her freedom. Richard Thompson sings "Les Flammes d'Enfer" like a New World Frenchman who truly fears "the flames of Hell." And on "Ma Mule," Johansen -- that former glam-rocker who later metamorphosed into the pop figure known as Buster Poindexter -- transforms himself again, this time into some crusty old Cajun farmer who's had several drinks too many. Twelve of the 14 tracks feature vocal performances by such outsiders (also including John Fogerty, Maria McKee, Linda Thompson and Houston-born Rodney Crowell), and they all ring true enough (to my Louisiana-born ears, at least) to make this one enjoyable record.

Sure, on one level it's a shame that most people who hear these versions of these songs will likely remain ignorant of the true icons of traditional Cajun music: Joe and Cleoma Falcon, Dennis McGee, Sady Courville, Harry Choates, Iry Lejeune, Aldus Roger, Dewey Balfa and others. But that would be the case whether or not this record had ever been produced. And with Evangeline Made Ann Savoy has at least enhanced the odds that the general public will hear and appreciate a uniquely soulful sound grounded in the stylings of those Acadian originators.

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Roger Wood
Contact: Roger Wood