Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Clifton Chenier

  • Out West [Arhoolie, 1974] B
  • Bogalusa Boogie [Arhoolie, 1975] B+
  • I'm Here! [Alligator, 1982] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Out West [Arhoolie, 1974]
As the king of the accordion-based Louisiana blues known as zydeco, Chenier is revered among such patrons of the folk as Arhoolie's Chris Strachwitz, who has now recorded six albums with him. This is a good thing, I guess, but Chenier strikes me most of the time as a big frog in a small bayou--in French or English his slurs and impassioned moaning are pretty automatic, and the most distinctive thing about his accordion playing is that he plays accordion. This album adds Bay Area guitarist Elvin Bishop and pianist Steve Miller to Chenier's six-piece lineup, and I welcome the impurities--Miller is nothing special, but Bishop's solos give Chenier room to breathe and something to test his strength against. The only loss is Cleveland Chenier's counterrhythms on rubboard, which sink into the mix, but with Arhoolie that's always a danger anyway. B

Bogalusa Boogie [Arhoolie, 1975]
Crisp, spirited, with John Hart's tenor sax applying a crucial boot in the ass to each side and Cleveland C. rubbing his board to beat the band, this is where Clifton C. finally gets one of his famous parties onto a record. If he could keep it up he might give boogieing a good name again. B+

I'm Here! [Alligator, 1982]
Especially in a rhythmically conservative style like zydeco, it's rare that a band can carry an album, but that's the story here. First record I've ever heard hot enough to convince me that all those wild tales about the accordion man weren't so much pepper sauce. Just too bad it happened after he began to lose his strength. B