I don’t think anyone or anything could prepare me for what I heard on the opening track of Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band’s latest offering, “Standing On Faith.”
With a name like that, you know you’re gonna get some tub-thumping rhythm with an accordion strutting all over the place like it is part of the old guard hittin’ Bourbon Street every night. You’re waiting for that Cajun flavor to seep into your soul like slow-cooked gumbo.
Then you press play.
I haven’t been that blinded by a musical experience in a while, maybe ever. What came out of my speakers on “Intro” by Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band was a Prince/Parliament fusion jam awash in drum machines, synthesized horns and funky guitar. To be hit by that wasn’t only unexpected, it was downright impossible. Yet, by the end of its 2 minutes, I was bobbing my head enthusiastically to the percussive melody.
I forgot where I had started and when the second song, “Push Me Away,” sprung into action with a clean zydeco beat and soothing vocals from Ledet, I was sideswiped by that as well, not knowing how this Louisiana tradition had even bumped into that 1980s R&B-funk I heard earlier. Turns out I don’t know a lot of things, and one of them was the fantastic musical anomaly of Corey Ledet and company.
I’m glad I am now enlightened.
Ledet grew up in Houston, but spent his summer months holed up with family in Parks, Louisiana, the epitome of small-town Bayou country. The population was 653 at the 2010 census. There he surrounded himself in Creole/Cajun music and learned how to play its heartbeat in the drums. By age 10, he was hitting dates in Houston with Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals as a drummer, eventually learning how to play the genre’s crown jewel, the accordion. Since he graduated from high school, Ledet immersed himself in the culture he so loves and pursued a path that has his creativity on a swivel, always looking at how he can cross Creole and zydeco music with other styles like reggae, rock, pop and R&B.
“Standing On Faith” exists out of any musical genre.
After that 1-2 punch to start the album, like a downed boxer realizing he’s out of their element, one begins to wisen up that expectations are trivial with Ledet and you just have to take the music as it comes. It’s honestly one of the most unique recordings I’ve ever heard. Ledet somehow takes the distinct instrumentation and feel of zydeco music and superimposes it upon other styles like R&B or pop. Take for instance, the instrumental, “Love Never Felt So Good.” It’s an R&B song, with its sprightly keyboards and synths, flirty guitar and a popping bassline. But Ledet lets his accordion take charge of the melody like a lead guitar and somehow it fits pretty snuggly in the overall sound, never taking away from the song’s feel and giving listeners a broader insight into what an accordion can do.
This so-crazy-it-might-work genre splicing keeps you on your toes throughout the album. It instantly opens your eyes to what is possible with music and how meaningless and insufficient labels are in explaining it. “Take Me There” is a chilled ballad, gliding on Ledet’s sleek vocals and shimmering keyboards that glint in the melody’s light. P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” feels like it could have been a jumping-off point. “Street Light” is a rock-pop anthem with reggae undertones that Ledet finishes with a light accordion glaze on the hook and a bon-appetit accordion solo that transitions into a flashy electric guitar outro. Even explaining the music in these terms makes it sound like it shouldn’t work. But expectations are nothing in the face of reality and the reality is the music grabs a hold of you like a drunken buddy at a concert and doesn’t let go, imploring you to dance and sing along.
The album’s standout song is the title track, an uplifting number whose instrumentation is zydeco while its melody is pop and its message is gospel. Ledet just finds that delicious groove that lets his accordion and vocals dance their joyous spirit all over it, with splashes of pop and funk for good measure. It is a song that just makes your soul smile and could make a musical impact if given the right platform.
In the truest sense of the phrase, Ledet’s music has no classification. It exists as its own unique entity whose singularity is as impressive as it is irresistible. Just be prepared for a musical knockout.