Artist: Michael Doucet

Title: From Now On

Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Release Date: April 22, 2008

Soloist: Hey Diddle Diddle, This Cat Can Fiddle

By Joel Okida

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If you're a lover of Cajun music and especially of one of the two instruments synonymous with the genre, then get your hands on From Now On, close the doors, sit back and listen to a truly comprehensive exploration of the renowned fiddler and his music. Yes, it's Michael Doucet recorded live in the studio, stripped down, for the most part, to just the man and his fiddle and yes, he even picks up that other musical symbol of the bayou, the diatonic accordion. Throw in another seasoned fiddler and a crack guitarist and this live unrehearsed recording comes alive. Doucet often compares Cajun music to the piquant dishes of the culture and like the ubiquitous gumbo, there is truly a different rendition recipe for many a tune.

One of the great joys of Cajun song is the pulsing rhythm, provided by said fiddle and/or accordion, which underscores the fact that this was always music for dance. The Cajun jitterbug or a two-step alternating with a waltz: the recipe for a good time at any southwest Louisiana function. The bittersweet result of the success of his band, Beausoleil, is that their popularity has often shifted the infectious music out of the intimate dancehalls and clubs into the larger seated auditoriums where the energy is relegated to handclapping instead of the more spirited dispensation out on the dance floor. Can you just sit in your seat listening to an evening of Doucet avec Beausoleil classics, i.e., feel the heat of Blues a Bebe, the beat of Parlez-Nous a Boire, and not fall in love waltzing through Je m'endors? Perhaps so, but why would you want to?

Still, that being said, with a generous 19-tracks and 67 minutes of music, From Now On reveals Doucet's unique and masterful artistry of an American music genre (by way of French-Canada and a polyglot of other ethnic seasoning) and, dance or no dance, it stands up musically regardless of how you take it. One of the prime progenitors of pushing Cajun music out of the fais-do-do, into the mainstream and across the planet, here he describes the art of traditional Cajun fiddle music while carving out his own niche within and past those boundaries. This is a departure from the consistently traditional sound of his longtime band Beausoleil, who are well-versed in all things Cajun and not bad at stretching those boundaries at times, either.

From Now On represents a sampling of instrumentals, some straight ahead fiddle solos, others with funk and jazz guitarist Todd Duke, who leaves the electric at home and goes acoustic all the way. Still others feature the added magic of fiddler Mitchell Reed, an accomplished musician in his own right who weaves in and out or along with Doucet. But make no mistake, every two-step, jig, blues tune, reel and standard, has Doucet shining through, proving both his mettle and range of musicality, whether singing it or bowing it.

The New Orleans second-line rhythms of Madame Boudreaux showcases Duke's guitar and Doucet's story-telling vocals and playful fiddling. He never abandons the Cajun roots no matter what he's playing and adds the tasso to an R&B standard like Barbara George's "I Know," the second part of a A Closer Walk with Thee medley. Although traditional reels are not percussive or beat driven by definition, they are still danceable and a swirling Cajun jig would be appropriate for the fiddle solo, Reels de Mamon. Here, he draws inspiration and technique from the great Cajun fiddlers Aubrey DeVille, Wallace "Cheese" Reed, and Austin Pitre.

A splash of saucy musical tabasco creates a punch of soul in both Allen Toussaint's Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky, the opening song, and Doucet's own Fonky Bayou. The latter being a tune he quizzically penned immediately after a month long stint in a Buddhist retreat.

Like a tasty beignet, after all the fiddling, we get early dessert when, not too surprisingly, he takes a turn on the diatonic accordion for legendary Creole accordionist Amedee Ardoin's aptly titled, Amedee's Accordion, and shows he's no slouch on the ‘stomach spinet', as he calls it.

The pace picks up with an energetic race through Brasse le Gombo Vite (Stir the Gumbo Fast). Although not letting the roux burn by constant stirring is the key to making a good gumbo sauce, don't try stirring your spoon to the tempo of this little gem, because you will wear out your spoon or your wrist way before the sauce is done.

The clever arrangement on Hoagy Carmichael's New Orleans starts off as a lazy two-step, then goes swingtime before slipping back into the classic melody. A soulful rendition of St. Louis Blues does W.C. Handy's classic tune justice and then some. Again, Duke's guitar is matched well against Doucet's slick but not greasy strokes.

That this recording was done live in the studio without rehearsals or overdubs is an achievement in itself. This compilation seems to serve, unofficially, as an homage to Doucet mentors and fiddling compatriots Dennis McGee (listen to Chez Denouse, his soul is in there), Sady Courville, and Canray Fontenot (Bee de la Manche), amongst others of the Cajun music honor roll. Even recording several of these tunes in Lafayette's historic La Lou Studios, which has been home to many a memorable Cajun record, adds to the essence.

Although Doucet was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005 and he, along with Beausoleil, took a Grammy in 1998 for L'amour ou La Folie, there is every indication that there is more to come, with no loss of integrity, as he delves deeper into the history vaults of Cajun music while engaging the possibilities of flavors yet to be tasted.

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.