Amédé Ardoin :: Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone: The Complete Recordings, 1929-1934

Certain strands of rockist kids grow up saying that their favorite music is “anything but rap or country.” For the teenager of the 1990s in Southern Louisiana, the silent addendum to that addendum was “or Cajun or zydeco”. The nasal-honked whine and chank-a-chank rhythms of our cultural forebears was anathema to us, as was anyone who cried “ay-ee!” in exultation, comme les cadiens. Acadiana Open Channel, the local access station for the region surrounding Lafayette, regularly broadcast fais do-dos live from Randol’s restaurant. Even a passing glimpse of the oldsters two-stepping in their starched Wranglers, filtered through the cheap fuzz of a tax-funded lens, was enough to bring out from us sinking and embarrassed feelings of recognition, an emotion that blew from the screen with enough force to pin back our ears. As we struggled to find the remote, at the forefront of our minds was the unacknowledged fact that these were our people–or, that we teenagers were the people of these people. The only hope was in finding the channel changer, and thus in being able to clap our eyes gratefully on Ren and Stimpy or Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; anything that had syndication.

But something has happened. Blame it on the internet, or on Katrina or the BP spill, or even the Saints winning the Super Bowl. Blame it on the nostalgic zeitgeist, or the actual process of easing into adulthood. Whatever the cause, something has happened. All the embarrassed teens are playing the accordion. While the local music scene in Lafayette has always been oversaturated with pick-up Cajun and zydeco groups looking for modest regional success, the past few years have seen a definite shift in the cultural landscape. The local sound is what’s in. Local noise-popsters (and Park the Van signees) Brass Bed are on the verge of releasing a split EP with Cajun group Feufollet, whose sound has been hailed by none less than kingmaker Elvis Costello. When they’re not off playing outdoor festivals in Quebec or Minnesota, local heroes Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole play to overflow crowds at the Blue Moon Saloon just off of Lafayette’s main drag. Young Cajuns, weaned on punk and garage, have made enough noise with their fiddles and accordions to perk the ears of NPR’s Geoffery Himes, who, having caught a Pine Leaf Boys show at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, wondered aloud whether Cajun string bands might break out and become the next big thing, î  la Mumford and Sons.

So it’s appropriate that, as a new generation begins to push Cajun music out of the provinces and onto the national stage, Tompkins Square has released this set from Amédé Ardoin, the Depression-era accordion player considered by most to be the godfather of both the Cajun and zydeco genres. Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone, which collects for the first time each of the thirty-four tracks recorded by Ardoin, ought to play the same role for young Cajun musicians that Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music did for Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Like many of the songs captured by Smith, Ardoin’s songs have entered what we might call the social domain; songs like “Two-Step de Eunice” and “Les Blues de Prison” have been passed around and reinterpreted for generations, and are genre standards.

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