Gusty, firey winds blow in from the Bayou : Latest installment of Sings Like Hell brings Cajun hellions, Pine Leaf Boys

Jun 23, 2008 | Reviews, Series 23


As the calendar slouches toward July Fourth, and the humungous American flag hangs on the backside of Lobero Theatre, some deep cultural mojo shook the venue Saturday, when the fiery young Pine Leaf Boys brought Cajun and Creole musical goods.

The potent accordion-driven, five-piece band from Lafayette, La., sings mostly in French, and it just might help lead the charge of a new Cajun craze. This music fully qualifies as an underrated but wildly vibrant corner of true Americana, even if it falls outside the accepted boundaries of the Americana genre.

While the de facto leader of the band is accordionist Wilson Savoy, the talents are fairly evenly distributed. Drummer Drew Simon sang a few songs, and Mr. Savoy swapped his accordion for the fiddle of Cedric Watson, who also sang up a saucy storm.

Under normal conditions, this would be a band whose primary — or at least secondary — purpose is to fuel dance fever in a room. Early in the show, Mr. Savoy told the crowd “if you don’t dance, you have to take your clothes off. Those are the two rules.”

“When I heard about the Sings like Hell series, I didn’t know what to expect,” he gently gibed later. “But everyone’s here in tuxedoes.”

If the band was frustrated by the staid crowd, it didn’t show it. Even without the visual aid of bopping bodies, some good, steamy Cajun music gets your brain dancing, with its unique combination of raw grooving intensity and innate music sophistication. A waltz tune had an 11-bar phrase structure, and several extended coda vamp sections were models of delectably syncopated musical machinery.

Highlights of the band’s set included the opening tune, Mr. Savoy’s “Blues de Musicien” (”Musician’s Blues”), “Flames of Hell,” the classic “Le Bon Temps Roulet” (”Let the Good Times Roll”) and the set-closer, “Le Chanson Lemonade.” All in all, the Boys’ set was one of the most exciting, ensemble-fired and rootsy shows in the history of the Sings like Hell series.

Opening this altogether stellar evening was JT Nero, a gifted Chicago man of song, who has previously appeared in the series with his band, JT and the Clouds. Mr. Nero, who joked he has “channeled self-pity into a highly lucrative career,” deftly juggled witty banter and moody songsmithing, with soul music-injected variations on the pop-folk, singer-songwriting theme. His high, flexible voice is somehow at once fragile and forceful, confident and vulnerable, and reminiscent of Tom Brosseau.