Lil' Band O' Gold: The Promised Land
Jun 19, 2010
THE PROMISED LAND, The Lil’ Band O’ Gold (Dust Devil/Room 609)
On the highway, just outside Lafayette, Louisiana, is a log cabin called the Four Seasons Lodge where working people go at weekends to drink and dance. On the bandstand, through the cigarette-smoke haze, you will see a raven-haired, white-suited singer in his seventies. He calls himself Warren Storm and draws from a repertoire of early rhythm ‘n’ blues, country ballads and rock ‘n’ roll, all filtered through the regional style that has come to be known as swamp pop. He also plays drums.
For a long time the Four Seasons was the favoured watering hole of a couple of much younger musicians, guitarist C.C. Adcock and accordionist Steve Riley. Like Storm, Adcock and Riley are Cajuns: descendants of the French-speaking exiles of former Arcadia (now part of Canada), who settled in the Louisiana swamplands after losing their home to British colonists.
“We’d go and hear Warren out there night after night and just bug him to death to play the songs we wanted to hear”, recalls Adcock. “At some point we realised, ‘Why don’t we just form a band with him? It would be cheaper. We wouldn’t have to pay the bar tab every night and we’d get to hang out with Warren.’ So we decided we were going to get our dream human jukebox together.”
‘Dream jukebox’ is a perfect description of The Lil’ Band O’ Gold, the group they built around Storm’s rich voice and elegantly relaxed drumming. On The Promised Land, the second album they have made since they joined forces a dozen or so years ago, every track could be a great lost 45 from a different period, from the 50s to the present day.
‘Teardrops’, sung by Adcock, is early garage rock‘n’roll, with shimmering guitar and ‘ooo baby baby’ backups. In ‘So Long’ a rolling piano recaptures the sound of New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint’s seminal productions of the 60s. Mickey Newbury’s ‘Sunshine’, a 70s country hit, turns to soul at the hands of Storm, while ELO’s 80s evergreen ‘Hold On Tight’ is improbably reborn as zydeco, led by Riley’s spirited vocal (partly in French) and pumping accordion.
The Lil’ Band can cover so many musical bases because of its remarkable line-up. And it’s not all that little: eight musicians from a variety of backgrounds, the common denominator being Cajun roots. Saxophonist Dickie Landry, though raised in Louisiana, had a long immersion in the New York avant-garde, working with the likes of Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. Pianist David Egan made a career as a Nashville songsmith while Richard Comeaux is rated as the top pedal steel guitarist in the state. Adcock and Riley have each been bandleaders and recording artists in his own right.
Yet collectively they have something else again. It’s not just the ability to inhabit a range of styles; in the best tracks here, most if not all of these styles are present at once, so that the effect is both deeply traditional and boldly experimental.
You will find that combination in ‘Spoonbread’, the Egan-composed opener, in which fiddle, accordion and steel guitar jostle and join for solos between Storm’s sung verses, or in the beautiful ‘Dreamer’, another superb Egan tune, in which saxophone and steel swirl around Egan’s own vocal like spirits in a bayou mist.
But though The Promised Land is music for drinking and dancing it can also leave tears in your beer, and the song that pulls the deepest performance from Storm is a heartbreaker. Ostensibly an ode to lost love, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ was written by Bobby Charles: fellow Louisiana native, writer of ‘See You Later Alligator’ and a childhood friend of Storm’s, who died last year. As I listen to Storm sing: “Please don’t make me go/to New Orleans no more/I am so afraid/I might see her face”, I’m reminded of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the recent oil rig catastrophe, and his lament for a woman becomes a lament for a whole world.