Listen to Rosie Ledet's "Baby What You Do to Me," the opening track from her recent Come Get Some album, and it's immediately obvious that this is not your father's zydeco music. In fact, it's arguably better.
The Louisiana native's unaccompanied accordion leads off the track, before her Zydeco Playboys kick in with sharply arranged shards of guitar, an insistent backbeat, and a snaky bassline that could as easily have fit on a '70s Lou Reed or '90s Morphine album.
But what really brings it all home is the combination of Ledet's sultry, soulful voice and her supremely melodic songwriting, making the album as listenable as it is danceable. And with the same musicians — Andre Nizzari on guitar and keyboards, Chuck Bush on bass, Kevin Stelly on drums, and Lukey Ledet on rubboard — joining her out on the road, Louisiana's "Zydeco Sweetheart" is crafting a remarkably tight and inventive sound that goes a long way toward revitalizing the Creole music tradition without losing sight of its original spirit.
And finally, of course, there's Ledet's penchant for suggestive double entendres — from the "Come baby, Come baby / Baby, come come" of the title track to perennial crowd-pleasers like "My Joy Box" and "Eat My Poussière."
Don't worry, we'll get to that soon enough. But first, let's talk about music.
Indy: I understand that two of the zydeco bandleaders you saw performing live early on were Boozoo Chavis and Miss Ann Goodly. What was it about their performances that got you excited, and how would you describe the differences in their styles?
Rosie Ledet: Oh, OK. Well, Boozoo, he was actually the first live zydeco performer I'd ever seen, and he had such character, kind of like me. A little guy, big cowboy hat, cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He had so much energy and fun, and I just fell in love. And he had a more traditional sound — well, he pretty much invented the traditional sound!
And with Miss Ann Goodly, she was the first female zydeco performer I'd ever seen, and she was absolutely beautiful. She had this big old smile and it looked like she was really, really enjoying herself. And I was like, hell, girls can do this, too! Yes, yes, she had a wonderful voice and was just full of energy, so I fell in love with her, too.
Indy: When you were talking about big smiles, it just occurred to me that every zydeco musician I've ever seen has had a big smile. And every Cajun musician I've ever seen has looked kind of sad.
RL: You noticed that?! I'm pleased somebody else has seen that. Yeah, the Cajun musicians, they look either mad or sad. It's like, what is going on here?
Indy: You all don't live that far from each other.
RL: No, we don't! Why, hell, down here we have the same families, you know? I can't explain it. I wish I knew why. You'll have to ask some Cajun musicians!
Indy: Compared to a lot of other zydeco artists, your songs tend to be very melodic, and you sing more in what I tend to think of as the Irma Thomas soul tradition ...
RL: A lot of people say that.
Indy: Is that because I just haven't heard enough zydeco artists, or is it something you consciously set out to do?
RL: Very un-consciously. I started out pretending to sing, because my mom always had us in the choir growing up. And she has the most soulful, gorgeous voice. So I think a lot of that comes from her, with me trying to imitate her voice. It's not something I consciously do, but I really think that's where it came from. And of course I love Miss Irma, and all the soul singers.
Indy: Is your mother still with us?
RL: She's still with us. She's getting up in age now and, well, it's kind of sad, she's just developing Parkinson's. So she doesn't really do the choir thing no more, but we still gather around and sing at the house, you know?
Indy: On the most recent album, the instrumental arrangements are really striking. The opening track has that really sinewy bass line, and the guitar part is also really different. And then there's that steel guitar on "Love's Gonna Find You." Would you say this is your most adventurous album musically?
RL: Yes, definitely. Andre Nizzari had all these wonderful ideas, you know, putting in the keyboards, the fuzz bass on "Caffina," he has some really great ideas. He said, "You know, it's your songs, Rosie, I just put my footprints on them." And we just finished another one actually, and it's gonna be even a little more out there.
We were kind of afraid, because you have your real strict zydeco fans. But I think it helped in gaining more of a wider audience. Because the biggest complaint I ever heard with people who don't listen to zydeco, is that it's a little too monotonous for them. So we thought, OK, we're gonna add some more flavor to it. And then on this new record, we're adding a little more flavor. Yeah, but we still tried to keep the danceability, you know?
Indy: Your lyrics are kind of famous for their double entendres, which I know fits into a longstanding blues tradition. I'm sure "My Joy Box" is strictly about your accordion ...
RL: Yes, well of course! [Laughs.]
Indy: And then there's that one about eating my, um, dust. What's that French word, and how do you pronounce that again?
RL: Poussière? [Laughs.] Oh my god, that happened because I was listening to my ex-brother-in-law and he was saying how he was playing a trail ride, and it was really dusty outside. The people were dancing and the dust started flying up, you know? He said, "Ooh, la poussière volait!" And I said, "WHAT did you say?!" He said, "The dust was flying!" So then I kind of kept that in the back of my mind.
Indy: I assume that song's a live favorite.
RL: Uh huh. It's so funny how they ask for it sometimes, because I don't think they get the pronunciation quite right. [Laughs.] And the women are so funny, especially when they've had a few drinks: "Hey Rosie, play that eat my [hesitates] you-know-what song!" It's really funny. But first I look around and make sure there's no little kids around, and we can do it then.
Indy: There are a couple other musicians I've heard of named Corey and Cassie Ledet. Are you related to them?
RL: Yeah, Corey is my ex-husband's cousin, and Cassie is my daughter. And she's doing some of her mom's songs. I'm so proud. I say, "Look, it's me 20 years ago!"
Indy: So how long will it be before she gets as good as you?
RL: You know, since she was an itty bitty thing — about the size of her daughter [today] — I've been trying to get her to play. And now after all this time, she's just decided to sing a bit, and she's really good! She's lying on the sofa right now with her two little girls. She has a 3-month-old and a 3-year-old.
Indy: So you'd been trying to get your daughter to play since the age of 3?
RL: Oh, it's so funny, because I have this little miniature accordion. And I put it in my tiny little grandbaby's hands the other day, and I took pictures. It's so cute. And she really loves it. If anyone plays that thing, she will. And I think she might!