September/October 1997 Issue
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys: "Friday at Last"
by Donna Eckberg
This latest CD release continues the Mamou Playboys' dedication to traditional Cajun music. Steve Riley has mastered both single and three row accordians as well as fiddle. He's young and riding the front wave of Cajun music with the hottest dance band coming out of Southern Louisiana. The Mamou Playboys consist of fiddler/vocalist David Greely, bassist/fiddler/vocalist Peter Schwartz, drummer Kevin Dugas and guitarist Jimmy Domengeaux. This is a tight and talented dance band whose members have been schooled by the late fiddler and songwriter Dewey Balfa.
The main focus of "Friday at Last" is material culled from the masters of Cajun music; most of them gone, but their memories living on in their music. Fiddlers are prominent in these selections. Dewey Balfa is represented with the mournful Valse du Bambocheur or Drunkard's Waltz. All parts are played and carefully dubbed by Steve Riley on guitar, vocals, fiddle and triangle to capture the spirit of the Balfa Brothers. Adieu Rosa, from fiddler Dennis McGee, is a bluesy tune which bids good-bye to a disreputable woman. This song is in the old style which dates back to the 1930's, before the spin-off and development of modern day zydeco music.
Two tunes from Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot also have that old time zydeco bounce. Allons Danser, sung in Riley's boyish voice, tells of a man who sees a beautiful woman and invites her to dance. She claims she doesn't know how, but that doesn't matter. He insists she come into his arms and dance. The song has a timeless quality and shows that things haven't changed much when it comes to dance and romance.
The Wayne Perry Blues is one of the best discoveries on this CD. David Greely revived this lilting one-step from a 1934 field recording by Alan Lomax of fiddler Wayne Perry. Greely's execution of this tune is filled with beauty and emotion. You can't go wrong with the three fiddlers in this group. Bassist Peter Schwartz takes up the lead fiddle to play a waltz he composed for Dewey Balfa's daughter Christine's wedding, Le Pere de la Nouvelle Mariee (The Father of the Newly Married). Greely joins with harmony to create a sensuous twin fiddle experience.
Accordian masters are also represented on this disc. A waltz from Aldous Roger, Comment Je Vas Faire Si Je Peux Pas T'Avoir (How Will I go on if I Can't Have You) showcases Riley's accordian technique and the group's tight three part harmony vocals. The Lawrence Walker medley features the beauty and full range of the unaccompanied Cajun accordian. Other selections include guest Randall Foreman on steel guitar and have that driving Cajun dance hall sound. The Mamou Playboys Special, arranged by Riley, and Enterre Moi Pas (Don't Bury Me) have the energy to propel you around the dance floor. The steel guitar adds punch, matching the rhythms of the button accordian.
"Friday at Last" is on Swallow records and has been spotted in local stores. You can find Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys at Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette, LA. September 19-21. For tourist info call 1-800-346-1958.
Dewey Balfa gained national attention for traditional Cajun music in July of 1964 at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. He had been providing entertainment at dances with his brothers since 1948, playing music based on the Cajun folk songs learned from their father.