Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys Release 'Best Of' Compilation

24 June 2008

Traditional Cajun music is a mix of instrumental sounds and styles. Itcomes from combining music brought to the southern U.S. state ofLouisiana by early settlers with the sounds brought by laterimmigrants. Steve Riley leads one of the most popular Cajun bands inthe U.S., and as VOA's Katherine Cole reports, his new greatest hits CDis a good place to begin learning about this all-American sound.

The Best of Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys
"TheCorner Post" first appeared on a 1993 album called Trace of Time, butit's also on the new two-CD compilation simply called The Best ofSteve Riley and The Mamou Playboys.

Although Steve Riley wasonly 19 years old when he started The Mamou Playboys in 1988, youwouldn't have known that from listening to his early recordings. At atime when many young bands were playing a progressive kind of Cajunmusic that mixed new and traditional sounds, Steve Riley and The MamouPlayboys were playing the old songs in the old style. They were soserious about sticking to the traditional approach, there were noEnglish lyrics in "Katherine," or the other songs Steve was singing.   

SteveRiley grew up in Mamou, Louisiana, a town where French is still spokenon the streets, and everyone plays music. He began playing accordionas a child, and was something of a prodigy. Steve was good enough tojoin Cajun music legend Dewey Balfa's band at the age of 15. Balfamentored the young musician, not just teaching him hundreds oftraditional songs, but also how to best perform them on stage. Thoselessons paid off.  

When Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboysfirst began playing their own gigs, the band sounded as if they wereold-timers. By the time their first nationally-distributed album wasreleased in 1990, the band had already earned the reputation of beingone of the best Cajun bands in the country. That self-titled releaseincludes "Pine Point," which also appears on the new double-CD set, The Best of Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys.

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
If you thoughtmusic so connected with southern Louisiana and sung in a languageforeign to most Americans might only be popular in a certain part ofthe country, you'd be wrong. The Mamou Playboys spend much of the yeartouring the U.S., playing festivals and in dance clubs. They have alsofound fans in both English and French-speaking Canada and, somewhatsurprisingly for the bandleader, in parts of Asia. That might bebecause Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys started out sounding astraditional as could be, the band has also kept the music style aliveby mixing some newly-written but traditional-sounding songs in with theclassics.  

The band also comes up with new arrangements ofsongs that had been believed lost. Steve Riley describes it this way;they "find the older tunes in the archives of the University ofLafayette, and then re-do them our way. This upped our creativity alot, and kept things going."

There are threepreviously-unreleased songs on The Best of Steve Riley and TheMamou Playboys, along with 28 songs the band recorded over the pasttwo decades. About half are vocals. The rest, including "Lovers'Waltz" are instrumentals.