The Desperate Kingdom of Love – C.J. Chenier
World Village 468041
Its no secret: everyone could use a little love in their lives. For the starving, sun-baked folks who clang to the roofs of their homes following Hurricane Katrina last year, just a little wouldnt do. The government flubbed its only chance at saving thousands of lives, and in post-Katrina America, a good chunk of the public found ways to blame them for their extreme misfortunes. Many lost almost everything they had — possessions, homes, and in some cases, family members. But as the flood waters recede and the city of New Orleans slowly regains its color, native musicians — saxophonist Branford Marsalis and piano statesman Dr. John to name a few — have spearheaded efforts to revive this cultural hotspot the only way they know how: raising awareness simply by playing the lively blend of R&B, funk and jazz that is the lifeblood of the Delta region and to which they owe their fame.
Like Marsalis and the Doctor, other area players felt they owed something to both the city and to the music itself. Born literally with the music of Southwest Louisiana streaming through his veins, the accordion-wielding C.J. Chenier sings with hair-raising soul on his first [formerly of the Red Hot Louisiana Band] solo album The Desperate Kingdom of Love. And how the wind knocked you down/Holy water cannot help you now, he belts in a deep, kind-of-sounds-like-Stevie Ray Vaughan drawl on the discs title track. Cheniers reading of this P.J. Harvey ballad drips with empathy for both New Orleans and the music that made it famous.
The Desperate Kingdom of Love carries these contextual undertones throughout, but also acts as vehicle for restoring Creole music tradition. Clifton Chenier, C.J.s late father and founder of the Red Hot Louisiana Band, was the first person ever to win a Grammy for Zydeco a musical stew mixing elements of French Creole and various African influences. C.J. flanked by American roots interpreters the Tarbox Ramblers and session pianist Joe Deleault lays bare his fathers slow-grooving style on Black Snake Blues. Cheniers accordion weaves in and out of the Ramblers bass-walking R&B on Ive Been Good to You Baby, and subtly assures hope for a rejuvenated NOLA spirit despite frustrated lyrics (Loved you so much/But when it came to me/You were always in a rush).
Although the Creole music he plays often times exposes lifes commonplace hardships, Chenier does it with a smile. And if that never changes, this music will live on forever.