In the twelve or so years that have lapsed since I listened to a Buckwheat Zydeco record, it is comforting to know that the group is still going strong, and yet no wonder. Convincing evidence to their momentum can be heard in their latest release on Tomorrow Recordings, Down Home Live. Down Home Live, a Thanksgiving performance recorded at El Sid O’s Zydeco & Blues Club in Lafayette, Louisiana, is Buckwheat Zydeco’s first (no kidding) live recording, a concoction of tunes that are for the preoccupied mind what habaneros are to a sinus infection. Furthermore, it offers us a rousing, spontaneous glimpse at what the group is, and at what its leader has become.
In the early 1970’s, Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr. was a generic musician, playing for peanuts in many local R & B units. Dural became locally renowned for his talent, but rhythm and funk cover bands and spinoff projects were a dime a dozen, no matter the region. He made ends meet through local performing ventures, but it was that storied search for the whole of music itself that kept his interest. Beyond the performing groups, Dural studied under regional masters, heavily acquainting himself with the blues and with Zydeco, an infectious southern concoction that marries Latin rhythms with Cajun-tinged blues and a dash of funk. Correlating with a resurgence of the local artform, Dural established Buckwheat Zydeco in 1979.
Since the band formed, the music has evolved as a function of Dural’s various approaches. Down Home Live features Buckwheat’s 11-piece ensemble tackling nine diversified selections, six of which belong to the leader. If a solitary tune were to be selected for the best representation of this group, it would have to be the disc’s opener, “Soul Serenade.” Following a succinct introduction by master of ceremonies and bassist Lee Zeno, which warns that Zydeco is “comin’ atcha,” Buckwheat is alive on the accordion, further stimulating an already electrified crowd. It is your typical live date, where the bandleader showcases each one of his instrumentalists, or flaunts his unit’s tightness by breaking down the energy with abrupt transitions into skeletal rhythmic lines, the majority of the members laying out. Even with such predictable methods applied, you never lose the sense that there is authentic, original music being played, just for you. There is a party going on. The highlight is, hands down, the group’s treatment of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” Buckwheat brings the room down with a slow, stop time entry, hammering the ballad’s chords. Fast arpeggios ensue on the accordion, and the melody follows, accentuated by electric guitar. Buckwheat treats the lyrics like the tune’s perceived female subject, with aggressive sensuality. The song, stretched out beyond thirteen minutes, provides shared opportunity and finality for the music; the horns bop, the guitar riffs, the accordion noodles, the break, the bridge, the bang. It’s real.
The selection of music is comprised of old standards and new originals that illustrate the scope of Buckwheat Zydeco’s capabilities. While technical bravado is substantial, the group’s delivery allows us to play distant witness to a rare party. Down Home Live is incredibly fun, and will make you want to catch the first plane to Louisiana for some first-person interaction with one of the greatest performing units of the past thirty years.
Personnel: Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr. (accordion, Hammond B-3, electric keyboard, lead vocals); Lee Allen Zeno (bass, master of ceremonies); Michael Melchione (guitar); Sir Reginald Master Dural (rubboard); Kevin Menard (drums); Curtis Watson (trumpet); Gray Mayfield (sax); Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal (guitar); Melvin Veazie (guitar); Calvin Landry (trumpet); Paul Wiltz (Sax)