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Swamp Song: Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole at the Catonsville Knights of Columbus, Sept. 2

September 28, 2010

There’s a reason Cedric Watson calls his band Bijou Creole: He wants to free zydeco music from its current straitjacket that permits nothing but a 2/4 stomp by returning to an earlier version of South Louisiana black music known as Creole (or “la la” or “zodico”). The Houston native and Lafayette resident wants the freedom to play his fiddle as well as his button accordion, to play waltzes as well as two steps, and to play with the fluidity of Caribbean syncopation that influenced Creole music so much and contemporary zydeco so little.

Watson is the right man for the job. He first gained out-of-state attention as the fiddler for the Pine Leaf Boys, ostensibly a Cajun band but a group that could and did play Creole and zydeco just as deftly. Watson’s desire to play more accordion led him to leave the Pine Leaf Boys amicably and form Bijou Creole in 2008. He brought that band to Catonsville Sunday night for a dance at the Knights of Columbus and demonstrated the widely varied pleasures of Creole music.

A short, slender man in a black T-shirt and a wispy beard, Watson manipulated his double-row button accordion to pump out not just rhythmic riffs but also lyrical fills. His tight, unfussy band knocked out the push-and-pull of the swamp rhythms so infectiously that “Johnny Can’t Dance” became a taunt and “Bijou Creole” became a rousing theme song. Both were sung in comfortable Creole French, with Watson’s squeezebox answering his every vocal line.

Yet the band was just as convincing when it played a waltz as slow and lovely as “Cher ‘Tit Coeur” or switched to a minor key for “The Corner Post.” Watson traded his accordion for a fiddle for about 40 percent of the set, sawing rhythmically on the zydeco of “O Man” and bowing sweetly on the ballad “C’est la Vie.” It seemed the band could do almost anything, whether it was a bilingual treatment of Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” or a lively fiddle treatment of Michael Doucet’s “Cochon de Lait.”

Sixty percent of the band has turned over since Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole released their Grammy-nominated album L’Ésprit Créole in 2009. Zydeco Mike still plays rubboard, triangle, and bongos, but Ryan Poullard, the son of noted Creole musician Edward Poullard, is the new drummer. D’Jalma Garnier, who has played with C.C. Adcock, File, and Jeffrey Broussard, is the new bassist, and Jeremy Saxon, a San Francisco bluesman, is the new guitarist. This lineup is about to release a new live album from the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, Creole Moon, and will enter the studio in February to cut a new album. That album will feature several songs that the group previewed in Catonsville Sunday, including the infectiously Caribbean original “Soleil Leve.”

The next Cajun/zydeco dance at the Catonsville Knights of Columbus features Lil’ Pookie and the Zydeco Sensations Oct. 23.