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What are you listening to? Ernest James

Lead singer and accordionist for Ernest James Zydeco

Ernest James of Ernest James Zydeco

The Kansas City Star

November is a big month for Kansas City’s Ernest James Zydeco, which releases its third album — “Three Steps from La La” — on Nov. 30.

Ernest James, singer and accordionist, outlined 10 songs that have captured his attention. For more on the band, go to ejzydeco.com.

“Madame Faielle” by Cedric Watson and Corey Ledet

“Earthy, authentic zydeco. Something about the hypnotic melody over the incredibly stinky rhythm gets me dancing at the dish sink. And what happens at 50 seconds makes me drop dishes.”

“Come Forward” by Hearts of Darkness

“This song reminds me of “Chips” and Erik Estrada. The intro builds anticipation, the melodies and rhythms coalesce like cop cars zeroing in on a high-speed stolen car chase.

“Tighten Up” by The Black Keys

“If I have to listen to overplayed pop, this is the kind I like. They pound the melody, and the lyrics are classic rock topics: love, horses, sheriff badges. And what happens at the 2:30 mark is sick. But you know this, and don’t pretend you don’t.”

“Mon Conne La Cause” by David Hidalgo

“This is on a curious zydeco album with different singers: Taj Mahal, Tom Tom Club, Cyndi Lauper (Whoa! in French? She’s sounding great!) and Michelle Shocked. In three and a half minutes, the purity, insistence and raw emotion in Hidalgo’s voice (he’s from Los Lobos) does what I only wish I could do. I sense that this was recorded in one quick session, live in the studio. That’s my style.”

“Red Cross People” by Mississippi Fred McDowell

“This is the old style scary blues. Pre-Muddy Waters electric Chicago style. How this song thumps along on one chord, McDowell’s voice weaving with his slide guitar melody to braid a melodic strand that bends around the blue note… it’s just evil. And I swear that descending lick McDowell plays on his slide guitar is where Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog … er … Snoop Lion, got that hook for “Murder Was the Case That They Gave Me.”

Broussard Baisse Bas” by Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys

“He’s playing accordion on this track, but Jeffery Broussard is one of the few Zydeco artists coming out with the old style Creole fiddle songs. This song is a three-step waltz, but its style is more of a blues, a kind of blues waltz called a “Baisse Bas.” Years ago, the older generationdidn’t want the kids to dance too close, get randy and neck. So the band would sneak in some blues when they played a basse bas. The dancers could dance closer to the slow blues waltz, but the musicians could say ‘It’s not a blues! It’s a waltz!’ And they wouldn’t get in trouble. Boy, times have changed, haven’t they?”

“Zydeco Hog” by Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha’s

“I’m a nut about old school traditional zydeco, but the way this familiar blues tune is turned into a driving, funky dance party is so damn fun. The fluidity of the bluesy accordion sets the tone. And the lyrics are brilliant. Anytime a singer devotes a song to claiming he’s a dancing “hog,” but doesn’t do the watuzi or walk the dog, well, hats off to him.”

ASCO” by Ali Farka Toure

“If John Lee Hooker knew how to ride a camel, milk a goat and wear a turban, this would be the blues he played. Lonely desert wind blowing every time I hear this. It’s a trip that NPR’s “The World” uses this song as its theme song.”

“Chere Bassette” by the Balfa Brothers

“A lot of times people ask if we’re a Cajun band. We’re not. We’re zydeco. The two are closely related but quite distinct. This song is Cajun. Twin fiddles, the metallic chanky-chank of the triangle. That’s Cajun. Rodney Balfa is the greatest Cajun singer I’ve ever heard. Like David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, the ache in his voice is palpable. ‘Dear little one, you know I have regret. You’ve broken our home to go so far away from me.’ ”


  1. 2 years, 10 months ago

    Photo by Cliff Adams.

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