Michael Doucet – From Now On (2008)

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Recorded live — and I do mean live, with no rehearsals and no overdubs — this new release from Cajun master fiddler Michael Doucet possesses a passionate immediacy.

And not just in the playing.

Once on an academic career track, the LSU graduate long ago (as he once famously said) “traded Blake for Balfa,” but Doucet never gave up on his learned approach to the music: He often clinged to the tradition, even as others like Zachary Richard — a former member of Doucet’s first group the Bayou Drifter Band — began to incorporate sounds from a wider context like rock ‘n’ roll.

Not here: On “From Now On” (Smithsonian Folkways), Doucet switches hats and switches sounds with equal agility and verve.

There’s plenty of down-home fiddle, but also turns by Doucet on octave violin, guitar and accordian — representing a virtuoso testament to his command and passion for the Louisiana genre.

Paired on some pieces with fellow fiddler Mitchell Reed as well as New Orleans soul guitarist Todd Duke (often seen with Creole legend John Boutte), the “From Now On” track listing also runs the gamut — from a bubbling Creole opening take on Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” (that was the first time Doucet had appeared with Duke) to second-line favorites like the reworked “Madame Boudreaux” and on to brand-new tunes.

Time-honored traditional cuts include the compilation “Reels de Mamou” and the quadrille-inflected “Contredance de Mamou” but also W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.”

In so doing, the album represents a notable break, not just from the Michael Doucet solo stuff but also from the band he leads — legendary local export BeauSoleil, which became far more conservative after the departure of swamp-poppy accordian player Bessyl Duhon. Brother David Doucet developed into Cajun music’s first flat-picking guitar lead, and the group won a 1998 Grammy for best traditional folk album with “L’Amour ou Folie,” but it never seems to take all that many chances any more.

Michael Doucet takes more than his share on this release, with terrific results. The title track from that award-winner by BeauSoleil is reprised here, for example, but in a stirring new duo arrangement with Reed.

That said, “From Now On” somehow (even on the Doucet originals) manages a timeless feel anyway.

Over the years, Doucet soaked in the richly rewarding playing styles of several Bayou State masters — including Canray Fontenot (whose “Bee de la Manche” is featured), Varise Connor, Dennis McGee (you’ll hear his “Chez Denouse”) and uncle Tee Will Knight — and then recorded the bulk of this one at Lafayette’s La Lou Studio near his home, where Aldus Roger and a host of other Cajun greats once held court.

Aptly titled, Doucet’s new disc has both a soul-lifting passion for the tradition, but also a refreshing interest in all that followed. “From Now On” is, at once, a new arrival that feels like something familiar and fun.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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