Updated Sept 27, 2023
Charles Mann "Walk of Life"
[Gumbo CD 002]
by Ryan Thomson
I like this recording. Some albums lose their freshness after several initial listenings and end up on the shelf for several months before being played again. Loaded with dance and party music, Walk of Life demands regular playing. Its carefully designed to hook listeners unfamiliar with cajun and zydeco music, and then reel them in. The first tune, the title cut, "Walk of Life," sneaks in a bit of accordion to a rock beat.
The next tune brings in some background fiddle. By the third tune, the Sir Douglas Quintet rock classic, "She's About a Mover," the button accordion becomes more prominent and the music is danceable to a traditional cajun two step. The fourth tune has a strong zydeco feel with rockabilly guitar licks flavored with an accordion and fiddle jam. By the fifth tune I was searching around for my dance partner!
Listeners looking for straight ahead cajun and zydeco may be disappointed since this music is not traditional. Its what some folks call "roots music," that is, modern music with strong flavoring from traditional sources. The album includes a Dire Straits cover tune. This probably means little to the traditional music lover but points up a major function of traditional cajun music as a melting pot for various musical styles. Its only natural that there be a musical interchange between popular and ethnic musics.
Musicians of any style often borrow from another if they hear something they like. Traditional cajun and zydeco bands have always borrowed from any rhythmic or melodic sources that they cared to. Charles Mann has similarly created a blend of old and new that appeals to him, and hopes, as his press release states, that the album: "will attract an audience way beyond the specialist collector market."
From the point of view of someone trying to introduce a cajun feel to contemporary music the album succeeds admirably. It would be a good introduction to someone who has never heard fiddles and accordions along with electric guitars and drums. Beyond that, this record stands entirely on its own musical merits. The vocals are strong and convincing and the music is eminently danceable. Its the kind of tape you might toss into the glovebox for a long automobile trip.
Written by Ryan Thomson