DIGITAL IMAGES OF BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO BY KURT SWANSON AND SOULFUL IMPRESSIONS
By Philip H. Farber
STANLEY DURAL JR., aka Buckwheat Zydeco, is out to prove that he's the current reigning King of Zydeco. He'll get no argument from me on that score, particularly after a few listens to his most recent CD, "Trouble," and a visit to his live performance at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie (NY) on Feb. 7.
"Trouble" is, perhaps, Buckwheat's best recording in many years. He gets back to some of his roots in the music, with an emphasis on blues and rock mixed into the upbeat zydeco arrangements.
The sound, as you might expect from Buckwheat at his best, is big and bright, production that sounds, with addition of accordion and creole rhythms, like some vintage, full-tilt blues band, B.B. King or Muddy Waters at their best. Buckwheat's band is big and tight, with tasty horns and compelling, bluesy guitar lines riding along on the bayou rhythms. While the arrangement and execution of the songs are rich and precise, the songs themselves are simple and catchy, with frequently repeated tag lines and refrains.
Put this disk on your stereo and crank up the volume and you have an instant zydeco party in your living room. The studio recording, though, is still no match for Buckwheat Zydeco's live show. On stage at the Bardavon last Saturday, there was simply no question about it; in spite of the elegant atmosphere of the old opera house, it took Buckwheat's band only one song to convince just about everyone to get to their feet and dance. That was even before the charismatic Buckwheat himself came out on stage.
An opera house is an odd setting for a zydeco, party. The seats are too comfortable, there's no dance floor, and people show up for a concert, not a party. Take for example the well-dressed, middle-aged couple who were sitting next to me in the orchestra seats. While the rhythms were pulling people by the hundreds off their cushions to dance, these two sat rather stiffly, not a smile, not a single toe tapping. After a couple songs, they began to smile just a bit, and I could see their heads nodding a little bit to the rhythms. By the end of the concert, they were up and boogying down with abandon, arms flying, feet stomping, butts wagging to the beat. It was an awesome sight to behold.
Anyway, Buckwheat and company played only one song that I recognized from "Trouble," the infectious and aptly titled "Hard to Stop." Other than that, they stuck to crowd-pleasers, pop songs from the history of rock, blues, and country music that everyone knew well enough to sing along: Hank William's "Hey, Good Lookin'," and the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" being two of the most memorable covers turned to zydeco. When Buckwheat Zydeco covers a song, I should note, the zydeco fuel that he applies to the musical engine takes that song just a bit further than expected, and he makes the tune his own. The whole thing was pretty spontaneous, and every song had frequent pauses during which Buckwheat would talk to the audience, exhort the crowd to dance, sing, clap, or bring children from the audience up onto the stage. I don't know about the rest of the audience, but even after a fairly long concert, I still wanted more.
On the road home from the show, we turned on the radio and listened to a little rock'n'roll. It just didn't do it with the strains of full-tilt zydeco still ringing, in our ears. Only one thing could even come close; when we finally got into the house, I flipped "Trouble" onto the stereo and turned it up.
Rock'n'roll may save your soul, but if you just plain want to feel good, zydeco, is the answer and Buckwheat Zydeco reigns supreme.
Philip H. Farber Is a free-lance writer living in the Hudson Valley. He writes a music column each week for Preview.