The photos inside the Pine Leaf Boys' latest CD, Homage au Passe, appear deliberately fuzzy and Photoshopped into sepia tone, suggesting the band was captured by the flash long ago. Only a closer look at the haircuts and clothing makes it obvious the young group — who plays traditional Cajun music that sounds thoroughly authentic — is from the 21st century.
The quintet's most recent album bears a title that literally means "homage to the past," and so far the group has shown a keen sensibility for Cajun tradition. That's not surprising, considering frontman, accordionist and fiddle player Wilson Savoy comes from a family of not just musicians but musicologists. His mother is musician and producer Ann Savoy, who wrote a respected history of Cajun musical culture. Wilson grew up playing in the Savoy Family Band with Ann and his father Marc, on an accordion carved from the wood of a sassafras tree planted by his grandfather. (Talk about roots music.) Fiddle player and vocalist Courtney Granger also boasts Cajun royal blood; he comes from the Balfa family.
Along with Feufollet, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and the Red Stick Ramblers, with whom the band has occasionally shared membership, the Pine Leaf Boys represent an energetic and talented new generation of southeastern Louisiana bands that are keeping the flame of Cajun music burning.
In the past, the Pine Leaf Boys tempered Cajun tradition with touches of roots-rock, swamp pop and neo-Americana, but Homage is truth in advertising. The French-language album is thoroughly and delightfully old-school, with smoking fiddle and reeling accordion sounding like a sweaty, stomping good time at a Eunice dance hall on a Saturday night. The record places classic covers like the rollicking drinking song "Parlez-Nous A Boire" alongside originals that perfectly match the roadhouse two-step atmosphere, not just in sound but in sentiment. The band's contribution to the boozing genre, "J'suis Gone Pour Me Saouler," could easily stand beside the former.
The Pine Leaf Boys' recordings show a deep understanding for and appreciation of their musical predecessors. The members also have reason to appreciate the work of their more recent elders. Because of lobbying by Louisiana music-industry vets like Cynthia Simien (wife of Terrance, one of the first artists to bring the sounds of Lafayette to national audiences with guest spots like his appearance on Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland), the Recording Academy added a new category to recognize Cajun and zydeco music. The category came through just in time for the Pine Leaf Boys to be nominated for a Grammy award twice. One nomination was for last year's Blues du Musicien. The band was recognized again for Homage au Passe, which is eligible because it was released digitally in December 2008. For a band rooted so solidly in the past, the future sure looks bright.