Review by Dan Willging from the June/July Issue of Dirty Linen Magazine
Bayou Seco * 20 Years Happy in The Bewilderness * Zerx – Zerx51 [(2002)]
Bayou Seco Trio * Home on the Great Divide * Zerx – Zerx36 [(2001)]
Twenty years is a long time for anything but in the case of New Mexico’s Bayou Seco, it seems bewildering that two decades have indeed flown by. Led by the husband-and-wife team of Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie, the Cajun-Centric/New Mexican music group has traveled down many a dirt road to
learn the indigenous music of their locale. The couple became proficient in Cajun-Creole music while residing in Louisiana, playing with such masters as Dennis McGee, Canray Fontenot, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and others. When it was time to leave, they did, putting down stakes in the Land of Enchantment and
subsequently absorbing the traditions of violinista Cleofes Ortiz, guitarist/accordionist Antonia Apodaca and Native American Tohono O’odham fiddler Elliot Johnson.
This beautifully, ecologically-packaged 21-track disc commemorates their first 20 years together and like their ‘spiritual millionaire’ career, this one too is rendered with a novel approach. Instead of featuring cuts from currently available recordings, Bayou Seco opts for out-of-print studio
selections, live gigs and radio shows for a loose, uninhibited feel. Over the years, 26 musicians have embraced the Bayou Seco family, playing everything from traditional Cajun, original Cajun, greasy garage band zydeco, hypnotic Hungarian to Tohono O’odham tunes, folksy numbers, French Canadian, zyde-Calypso and of course, aboriginal New Mexican music.
Overall, it’s a dense listen with aural treats abounding throughout. Their C-Z selections are often rawer than the bayou thing itself with clashing accordion squeals, wild fiddling and hard chugging rhythms. Equally enrapturing are the interpretations of “Valse de Jose Y Raphaelita,” an Apodaca staple, “El Quelite,” a New Mexican accordion-led classic, and “Una Noche Serena Y Obscura,” a live Ortiz-McLerie fiddle performance from the Port Townsend Fiddle Tunes festival.
Home On The Great Divide symbolizes many things such as McLerie and Keppeler’s abode that’s only a only a mile away from the geographical formation that extends from Western Canada to South America. It also symbolizes how nothing can separate the couple’s multi-culturalism that’s comparable in size to the Great Divide. Here, they indoctrinate their latest member, Appalachian transplant, guitarist/violinist Mark Mueller into the Bayou Seco ideology. While there are tunes from Cajun fiddler McGee, NM fiddler Ortiz and accordionist Apodaca, there are also four pristinely rendered Elliot Johnson tunes whom McLerie and Keppeler have been instrumental in keeping the Tono O’odham fiddler’s legacy alive and burning. Another prevailing theme here is a western one with selections attributed to Jack Thorpe who published the first collection of cowboy songs. As expected with any Bayou Seco outing, there’s guaranteed to be surprises along the way and this one’s no exception. “Polka de Gascogne” is a polka hailing from Southwestern France cast here in a southwestern motif
while elsewhere Keppeler occasionally tosses in clawhammer banjo for a startling old-time effect. Whoever coined the terms ‘roots music’ must have had the uncanny Bayou Seco in mind.
— Dan Willging, Denver, CO