Tomorrow Recordings, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/25/2000
Brian Terry is not ready to lead the next generation of zydeco music... yet.
Terry and his band, Lil' Brian And The Zydeco Travelers, build on the lessons that such leaders in the genre as Clifton Chenier and Stanley Dural have been teaching. Their more modern spin on the genre is evident on their debut album Funky Nation, but it's not the easiest transition to make for either band or for listener.
Terry has a vocal style that is reminiscent of bluesman Donald Kinsey - almost to the point that the music itself occasionally tends to flirt with the blues. "Question" is equal parts Robert Cray-style smooth blues and traditional accordion-based zydeco - and the mixture is incredibly pleasing.
It doesn't start out nearly as smooth. The title track tries to inject a bit of hip-hop into the mix, but it tends to render the final product to be meandering as if it doesn't know which is the correct spin to put on the music. Likewise, "Makin' Green" is a weak link in the chain, but this is due more in part to a weaker song than a poor choice of musical mixtures.
Fortunately for Lil' Brian And The Zydeco Travelers, they're able to turn their fortunes around quickly. "Get Up On That Zydeco" is the perfect example that shows the potential this band has - especially in the possibility of introducing zydeco to a whole new generation. There's almost a Roger Troutman vibe to the computer enhanced vocals, while the rest of the band - guitarist Patrick "Heavy I" Terry, bassist Emerson "Funky E" Jackson, rubboard player Mandrell Rideau and drummer Albert "Tony" Stewart - lay down a groove that is simply infectious.
The remainder of Funky Nation has more strong moments than weak ones - but there are times that the band stumbles. When they're on their game, as they are on tracks like "Back Stabbers" and "Black Butterfly" (another song that reminds me of Cray's smooth vocal delivery), the band is smokin'. But other numbers, like "Jackin' This Song" and "807 Magnolia," show the dangers of tampering with a proven musical formula. ("Jackin' This Song"? Gangsta zydeco? Well, maybe not to that extreme.)
If it sounds like I'm being harsh with Funky Nation, maybe it's because I expected a lot from a group that has been taken under the wing of Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural (of Buckwheat Zydeco fame). Besides, the stronger moments on this album do outweigh the weaknesses, and it turns out to be an enjoyable disc that might even win over new fans to a genre that strangely has never caught on.
With more time together and a few more albums under their belt, Lil' Brian And The Zydeco Travelers could well be leading the charge of new artists in zydeco. Funky Nation is a first step, but by no means should you assume the band's reached their goals already. There is still some work to do - but not a terrible amount.