Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Rudy Lu and Stanley Johnson
A recent Sunday evening crowd with an affinity for roots music got a double-dose of the good stuff at the Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park.
Ramblin Jug Stompers, local heroes of traditional jug-band music, got the feet tapping and hands clapping with their fine opener, “Mountain Dew.” Mister Eck’s lively mandolin propelled “Jug Band Music,” coaxing percussionist Will Bill to sing (and even whisper) like a mercurial carnival barker. Bowtie and Mister Eck played five-string and four-string banjos (“a patented duel banjo attack,” mused the latter) for a spirited “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” which was followed by guitarist Cousin Clyde’s mournful “A Man of Constant Sorrow.”
A delicate, swinging instrumental, “Frypan Jack Enters into Heaven” (from Hobo Nickel) was a fine showcase for Bowtie’s banjo and Cousin Clyde’s synchrony. Will Bill put aside his various percussion instruments for some soulful country harmonica during “Blues in the Bottle,” a showcase as well for Mister Eck’s robust vocals and resonator ukelele playing. No doubt hearing the freight train to their next destination, RJS closed their set with tight harmonies on crowd-pleaser “Old Plank Road,” a touchstone of the band’s live performances since its formation in 2006.
Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys brought the exuberant sounds and rhythms of zydeco from Louisiana for over an hour and a half. With a toothpick lodged in the right corner of his mouth, Broussard sang with a hearty voice in English and French and played his blue, white and red accordion masterfully. The crowd’s lack of familiarity with many of the songs – very few titles were announced – did not matter given the energy levels on the faster ones and the glorious ache of romance on the slow waltzes and two-steps. People young and old began dancing; by the end of the show, the area in front of the stage was crowded with happy dancers. Good will and good times never sounded so natural.
The rhythm section proved adept at any tempo: D’Jalma Garnier III played five-string bass with tremendous command; Broussard’s son Bernard “Boxie” Johnson scraped his frottoir so hard he needed to get some replacement spoons; and Randy Jackson, Jr. hit the drums like a prize fighter. James Rissacher, on loan from Captain Squeeze & the Zydeco Moshers, locked seamlessly into the band’s approach and delivered superb rhythmic and lead accompaniment throughout. “Dude is awesome!” exclaimed Broussard after one especially imaginative Rissacher solo during an extended slow waltz.
A final trio of songs offered a perfect summation of the evening. “The Richest One”, a Bill Carter composition, was dedicated to “all the heroes in the house” and inspired Broussard to deliver his best vocal of the night. Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya” became an infectious sing along, with the men and the women in the audience taking on respective verses (Broussard could not resist commenting on the fine voice of local blues artist Alison Jacobs – “Girl, you must be a singer!” who was grooving near the edge of the stage). An instrumental stomper, that harkened back to the tradition of the Lawtell Playboys (a legendary combo led by Broussard’s father, Delton) closed the night memorably, with father and son taking
their instruments through the seated area, shaking hands with fans as cameras flashed, all the way up to the top of the hill and back. Three little boys joined the band on the stage to clap along “on the one,” then Broussard switched gears, alternating between warp-speed throwdowns and just above a whisper reflective moments, which closed with an 86th birthday
shout out to “Joan from England.”