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Kind of Blue



You'd think the Bluerunners, who formed in Lafayette in 1987, wouldn't have to worry about crossing genres anymore. When the band formed, its music reflected an affection for the members' Cajun roots as well as rock 'n' roll bands like X and the Rolling Stones, a sound that, at the time, was controversial in some circles. Traditionalists didn't get it, and judging from Mark Meaux's cagey talk about pleasing "some people," you get the impression it's still a concern.

"People act like we're doing these sacrilegious things," he says by phone from his home in Lafayette. "It's either groundbreaking or sacrilegious. I don't think we're doing anything new at all; I'm almost embarrassed that it feels so antiquated to me."

Those who don't have an emotional investment in keeping Cajun, zydeco, blues and rock safely separated will likely hear Honey Slides, the Bluerunners' first album in almost four years, as more-or-less traditional with a healthy touch of the blues. The band covers "Coulee Rodair" by Canray Fontenot and the traditional "Mardi Gras Jig." The most significant departure is the Bluerunners' version of Mississippi blues singer Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Black Cat Bone." The song is a one-chord riff brought to the band by Meaux's bandmate and cousin, Will Golden.

"I'd never even heard the song," Meaux says. Golden turned the rest of the band on to Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, R. L. Burnside and the Fat Possum blues label, and that -- combined with Golden's growing interest in the lap steel guitar -- led the band to further explore the blues. In homage to the Fat Possum label, Meaux tried to mix "Black Cat Bone" the way Fat Possum records are mixed -- "real roomy with hardly any direct miking," he says.

"Blues is the basis of a lot of popular music. I don't think that's a new concept, but you'd think it is sometimes," he continues, adding that the blue notes in "Coulee Rodair" connect the song to the others. Besides, he points out, his interest in the blues doesn't come at the expense of traditional Louisiana music. "If we get hired to play a dance, we'll gladly play three or four hours of Cajun music straight."

Over the years, the Bluerunners have periodically been compared to Los Lobos, and it's an accurate comparison in the sense that both bands effectively synthesize the traditional music that influenced them into something that sounds true to its roots but contemporary at the same time. The accordion is still the dominant instrument, but alongside "Working Man's Zydeco" and the lovely "Lune du Minuit" are songs like the Latin-flavored "The Gravedigger" and the mandolin-driven "Ghost of a Girl," a duet with Susan Cowsill. Since Russ Broussard and Rob Savoy of Cowsill's band are both former Bluerunners, a duet seemed if not inevitable, then at least likely.

The song, written specifically for Cowsill, was one of the last written for Honey Slides. The Bluerunners wrote and recorded most of the album over a year ago during the band's first experience using ProTools, the recording software that allows musicians the same sort of freedom that word processing programs offer writers. They spent 2004 saving money to put the record out and promote it. While that was going on, they tweaked the tracks.

In conventional recording, bands spend time after the recording is completed doing additional overdubs, but they were all finished in the initial two weeks of recording. In this case, the band spent time listening to the tracks discovering, in effect, what they needed to sound like.

"The songs hadn't been played so much that the arrangements were obvious," Meaux says. "We lived with (the album) for a while and took the crappy parts out." ProTools allowed the band to pay attention to details that were once casualties of time and budget. "Frank (Kincel, the drummer) spent the better part of a day laying down percussion parts," Meaux says, laughing. "I didn't know he played anything but the kit."

During a recent interview, Chris Thomas King expressed concern that recordings he had done with Ray Charles during the making of Ray might not come out. With the release of More Music From "Ray" (Atlantic/Rhino), the version of "Every Day I Have the Blues" used in the movie sees the light of day. The take isn't essential, but it's a warm, personal version focusing on Charles' piano and the guitar and voice of King in the role of Lowell Fulson.

It and two tracks recorded to correspond to action in the film more or less justify the CD's title. Really, though, the album is another volume of Charles' greatest hits, and in ways, it's more interesting than the Ray soundtrack because there's more fresh listening to do. A lot here isn't as well known, and "I Believe to My Soul" would be a career-defining song for an artist who hadn't also recorded "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road, Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind."

"Blues is the basis of a lot of popular music," says the Bluerunners' Mark Meaux (middle). "I don't think that's a new concept, but you'd think it is sometimes."
  • "Blues is the basis of a lot of popular music," says the Bluerunners' Mark Meaux (middle). "I don't think that's a new concept, but you'd think it is sometimes."

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