Against the background of the presidential race, the Simpson case, and the Kervorkian disgrace, a discussion of the best party music currently available might seem flippant. Yet when a person wants to celebrate or merely forget the turns our culture takes, and hopes to select a soundtrack appropriate to his mood, it's hard to beat the bright, uptempo, southwestern-Louisiana music known as zydeco.
The best zydeco album of the year so far is Gonna Take You Downtown by Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers. Born Andrus Espre, the linebacker-sized, grizzly-voiced accordion player adopted the stage name Beau Jocque several years ago when the music he'd begun making as a therapeutic hobby showed signs of becoming something more.
"I was in an accident at the refinery where I worked," Mr. Jocque told WORLD. "There was an explosion, I got my back and right hip broken, and I was paralyzed from the waist down for about a year. But during that time my dad challenged me to learn the accordion, which I did. And since I wasn't able to go back to what I'd been doing before, zydeco music gave me a second chance."
He has made the most of it. By mixing zydeco with the hard-driving rock 'n' roll he loved in his youth, he's concocted a musical brew that mixes the best of both. On Downtown he follows the irresistible rhythms of the title cut with a cover of the early-'70s War classic, "Cisco Kid." He even takes on Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." It's an allusion that he doesn't make lightly.
"I know God's blessed me in one big way to be able to do what I do, and I try to keep myself worthy of God's blessings. I've gone both sides. At one time I was one of those misbehavers, but you only end up on a dead-end street."
Unlike Beau Jocque, the 25-year-old accordion player Geno Delafose has lived and breathed zydeco all his life. The son of the late zydeco star John Delafose, he'd become the regular drummer in his father's touring band before turning 20.
He performs three of his father's compositions on That's What I'm Talkin' About!, his second solo album. "I'm always going to do at least two or three of his songs on my albums," Mr. Delafose told WORLD. "It's just a way for me to say 'Thank you' and 'You're just always in my heart.'"
Like Beau Jocque, Mr. Delafose has distinguished himself from the zydeco pack by allowing outside influences to flavor his music. He covers Los Lobos's Tex-Mex "Let's Say Goodnight," for instance, and admits that "Teardrops," another original of his, is a country-soul ballad in disguise.
Also like Beau Jocque, Mr. Delafose considers his musical gift a blessing. "All I can say is that I thank God. I always put God first, ahead of my own business. I don't preach in my music, but I must admit that I pray a lot. I often wonder if I'm not bothering God sometimes because I'm always thanking him for what I have."
Such simple piety is common in southwestern Louisiana. But in pop music, even in other roots genres like country and blues, it is hard to find. Zydeco musicians may seem like an unlikely tool in the preservation of the ember of faith, but few who've heard them perform will deny their flame-fanning power.