Buckwheat Zydeco's bayou blues
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 26, 2004) – The ground outside may have been icy and temperatures were once again flirting with single digits, but on Wednesday night inside Club Helsinki, Buckwheat Zydeco was fanning the flames of zydeco fever with his singular brand of bayou blues.

Part cheerleader, part MC, part showman, virtuoso accordionist and dynamic vocalist, Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr., led his red-hot, five-piece Ils Sont Partis Band and the standing-room-only crowd on a trip to southwest Louisiana, where the rhythms were relentless, the groove was always syncopated, and the dancing never stopped.

Dressed in a cream-colored three-piece suit – he quickly doffed the jacket – Dural was one of those performers who by sheer dint of charisma and intensity of focus takes the stage and immediately grabs hold of the crowd. For the next two hours, he never let go.

Chattering a mile a minute, sometimes in English, sometimes in Creole, he egged on the partygoers on the night after Fat Tuesday. “Together we stand, divided we stand, nobody’s gonna fall tonight,” he said at the outset, before his band kicked in with its infectious blend of blues, soul, Cajun, Tex-Mex and the indefinable secret ingredient that turns it into the unique gumbo called zydeco.

Most of the songs the band played were just long funk grooves built on hypercharged blues and the early rock ‘n ‘ roll of Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Little Richard – with more than a little James Brown thrown in -- given a zydeco twist. The dance rhythms came in extended suites that were deeply syncopated, with the washboard following a microsecond behind the snare and the guitars chopping chords in a style that must be a close cousin to Jamaican ska. On top of it all, Dural squeezed his accordion – really a box of reeds – functionally assuming the role of a horn section but giving the music its distinctive taste and feel.

When he wasn’t singing, talking or playing, Dural was engaging with the audience like a party host, inviting dancers to sing, getting the crowd to answer in call-and-response phrases, and just making sure that everyone in the room was having a great time.

It was a rare treat to enjoy a star of Dural’s magnitude – he typically plays large clubs, concert halls and festivals – in the intimate confines of Club Helsinki. It put the music back in an environment similar to the one from which it sprang – the roadhouses of southwestern Louisiana and east Texas – and where it undoubtedly belongs.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 28, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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