Kip Sonnier and Hurricane – Truth or a Lie (1999)

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NICK DERISO: You see the name “Sonnier,” you think Cajun. And you’re almost right.

Sure, Jon Yudkin played fiddle on Kip Sonnier’s “Truth or a Lie.” Steve Duhon was on accordian. And, yeah, Sonnier is a Louisiana native.

Even so, Bobby Terry could be found on pedal steel. And that gave this fun release on the independent Belkin Records label a neat country spin. Time and again, Sonnier sidestepped straight Cajun for cool, downhome balladry. He says he feels like that solid, middle-of-the-road sound could just as easily have been labelled Top 40 music 35 years ago.

“Crossover bands and 4/4 time signatures make country the closest thing to older rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “If the Eagles came out today, and played the same music as when they first formed, they’d be labeled a country band. They really weren’t that far from it.”

To keep the Eagles analogy going, though, you’d best not be thinking of up-tempo rockers like their mid-1990s reunion hit “Get Over It.” Sonnier’s best stuff was on this release was more along the lines of “I Can’t Tell You Why.”

Take the title track, an early indication of where Sonnier’s true strength lies: “Truth or a Lie” was a flat-out gorgeous ballad, all heart. (And yes, it would work on a pop station. It could be a smash on a country station, too.)

Not to knock the mid-tempo fun of “Not Through Breakin’ My Heart,” but this guy seems better suited for flat-footed balladry. He’s like a Sinatra from the Swamp.

Check out “Wrong Guy,” with it’s tenderhearted admission that he’s a nice guy, after all. Sonnier probably has to hire bodyguards to keep them away at concerts.

Kip began his career as a drummer, perhaps wanting to separate himself from his guitar-playing brothers. Soon he followed in their footsteps, however, working at the young age of 16 in clubs throughout southwestern Louisiana.

After a touring stint in Texas with the band Bayou, he returned home to play in a band with the then-unknown Sammy Kershaw. But not before appearing in the film “Squaredance,” starring Rob Lowe.

He and Kershaw got some early experience, sharing the stage with country acts like Randy Travis, Steve Wariner and Alan Jackson. That led to an invitation to join the house band at Lafayette’s legendary “Yellow Rose” saloon – and more starry eyed introductions. He met Vince Gill, Diamond Rio, John Anderson and Travis Tritt when they came through town.

Slowly, Sonnier assembled the band Hurricane, while working at the Yellow Rose. As their collaborative powers grew, so apparently did their trust in one another: Kip didn’t mind passing the mic over to keyboardist Brian Perrin or bassist Tim Simon.

Next, they made a new best friend: The road. By the late 1990s, Hurricane was out there for something like 200 days a year, playing sympathetic dancehalls from the Cajun priarie to Texas oil country. (Patrick Meaux is still the backbone of the group on drums, with Chalan Thibodeaux on bass guitar and vocals with Arian Boudreaux on keyboards nowadays.)

Sonnier also started putting songs down on compact discs a heck of a lot earlier than most. And the song selection on an early one called “The Lighter Shade of Blue” is pretty indicative of the band’s diversity: They cover both “From Where I’m Sittin'” by Garth Brooks and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop.

He’s that kind of Cajun performer. That is to say, one who goes beyond the label, even while embracing it.

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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