Ramblin’ Men

by Stephen Deusner on November 9, 2010

Red Stick Ramblers (photo: Joshua Black Wilkins)

Growing up in southwest Louisiana, vocalist and fiddler Linzay Young went to parties thrown by his Creole-French-speaking grandfather, large gatherings that combined good company, good cooking, good music, and lots of dancing. Years later, those experiences continue to inform the music Young makes with the Red Stick Ramblers, a group of former LSU students who have an academic understanding of Pelican State music but play it like they’ve been hired by Young’s grandfather. Essentially, they make social music, and their records—including their latest, My Suitcase Is Always Packed—have the freewheeling pace of a shindig, alternating between energetic Cajun romps and slow-dance numbers, with a few two-steps and valses thrown in for good measure.

To call the Red Stick Ramblers a Cajun-music band, however, is to reduce them to only one aspect of their sound. In fact, they are ramblers in the truest sense, tipping their hats to western swing from Texas, honky-tonk country from Tennessee, delta blues from Mississippi, Appalachian folk, even hints of bluegrass and hot jazz. Their suitcases really are packed, as if ready at a moment’s notice to ramble in any direction where the music’s good. The album kicks off with the exuberant “Je t’aime pas mieux,” motivated by Blake Miller’s agile accordion, before launching into a string of drinking songs and sadsack laments like “Doggone My Time” and “Drinkin’ to You,” all with the clever wordplay and smiling self-deprecation of traditional country.

Established at the confluence of French and Caribbean traditions, Louisiana music has always been based on synthesis. Style and technique vary dramatically from one parish to another, from one cove to the next, and musicians cross-pollinated those different sub-regional strains to develop new permutations. The Ramblers, much like BeauSoleil in the 1970s and ‘80s, have simply expanded that palette beyond the state and parish lines, drawing from sources outside the region while remaining firmly grounded in Louisiana and its history.

So at times, the band sounds like the Hackensaw Boys or Chatham County Line, string-band revivalists who are putting modern touches on decades-old music. Yet the Ramblers never sound like part of a nostalgic movement; instead, their easy mastery of Louisiana music, along with their beyond-the-bayou curiosities, suggests an act taking up a tradition and continuing in a straight, unbroken line. In that sense, the Ramblers are a reminder that the possibilities for nuance and variation in American music remain as boundless as ever, and exciting as a good party.

Red Stick Ramblers share a double Duke Performances bill with Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole on Saturday, November 13, at Reynolds Industries Theater. Consult the show’s dP page for tickets and more information, and check back with The Thread tomorrow for a Q&A with Red Stick Ramblers’ Chas Justus.

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