Preview Swampland Jewels.
Swampland Jewels by various artists
This compilation of classic Cajun music from the 1950s and 60s is a matter of historical record that has preserved its original vibrancy. That is by no means a simple task but one achieved by recreating some great music from the legendary Cajun label, Goldband Records, in a partnership between Yep Roc Records and UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection. This isn't just for the historian of roots music; Swampland Jewels has something for both the long-time aficionado and the listener who is just curious to know more about this fascinating music.
The album’s own history is worth a brief mention. In 1952 a Cajun musician, Eddie Shuler, built a studio in Lake Charles, LA, to record the many and varied artists in the locale which he released on his Goldband Records. Much of Swampland Jewels first appeared under the same name on that label in 1979. In the mid-1990s the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC acquired the Goldband Records archives. The collection’s curator, Steven Weiss, produced and Brent Lambert at the Kitchen Mastering in Carrboro, NC, remastered the original two-track album. The initial aim was to recreate the original track list but Weiss and the engineers realised not all would sound acceptable in their new format. Rather than compromise they dug around the Goldband archives and came up with some other songs discovered since the original 1979 version. The result of this painstaking work is Swampland Jewels, 2017 style.
The album’s 19 tracks goes through three levels of Cajun; (1) good time music, (2) how it blends with other styles and (3) its long and fascinating history.
- When thinking of Cajun and zydeco most people think of swirling accordions and fiddles furiously playing on a Saturday night. Herman Guilee’s ‘Bon Ton Roula’, is just that. From the original 1979 master, Guilee’s intro is full of heady anticipation; take your partners, this is going to be fun. You can just feel the heat as the song progresses with the tight washboard rhythm holding it all together. Also from the original master is ‘Fee Fee Poncho’ by Sidney Brown and Jo-El Sonnier. More fast paced accordion but this time with the typical Cajun shout singing.
- Eddie Shuler liked to blend Cajun with other styles as on two tracks from Cleveland Crochet and his Hillbilly Ramblers, a band that could play rock ’n’ roll; ‘Sugar Bee’ and ‘Good Morning Blues’. These give the Cajun style a bluesy feel that perfectly accompanies the rasping vocals of tough times. Another direction comes in ‘Yard Dog’ by Al Ferrier that pushes the boundary of Cajun well into rockabilly. Great vocals too.
- Every track qualifies for this category. Again, while all this happened a long time ago, the stories behind each of the artists remain fascinating. The album liner notes and photos put together by Steven Weiss perfectly complement the music. Starting with the album’s first track, ‘Paper in My Shoe’ by Wilson Anthony ‘Boozoo’ Chavis, considered a classic, through Shuler’s blendins with other genres we see the versatility of Cajun through the eyes of his impressive line-up. Picking a favourite is virtually impossible but if pushed then the best comes last; Joe Bonsall’s ‘Pauve Hobo’. You don't have to know the language to feel his emotion that is amplified several-fold by his accordion.
Swampland Jewels is a notable release; it has built on the original with the material discovered since then and the quality of the remastering that is a perfect application of new technology to enhance, not replace, the original sound. As well as Eddie Shuler and Goldband, we owe Steven Weiss, UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection and YepRoc Records a great deal.