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CD REVIEW: Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys' Grand Isle



THE DEAL: After years of performing — together since 1988 — the MP's have a novel new recording. After some 10 previous albums — some perfunctory — the group hits its stride with a combo of new and old, originals and covers. This time there's social commentary as hometown Mamou, La., sits in the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country close to the coast, hit by the destructive BP oil spill.

THE GOOD: Typically Cajun, these are novel tunes and rhythms ("Pierre"), given a surprising twist while several tunes remain closer to their base. Recording on vintage equipment gives the tunes a warm yet edgy and boisterous sound. Not afraid of the past, they even do an Edith Piaf cover of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." Give them credit for experimenting and taking chances.

THE BAD: The album starts with such a bang — try listening to first cut "Dancing Without Understanding" without getting up ­— that it loses steam toward the end. To remedy that, play on shuffle.

THE VERDICT: After the destruction left by hurricanes Rita and Katrina, plus a catastrophic oil spill, much of the Cajun support system disappeared and music like this became a last refuge. It's a good thing musicians like Steve Riley and company express themselves so well on behalf of the surviving people and creatures of southern Louisiana. Grand Isle is a hard-hitting album for a hard-hit place and hard-hit people.

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