|Photos by Robin May|
[Editor's Note: For five days only — April 1-5 — Zachary Richard is making available to fans an unrealeased song from the Le Fou sessions, “Bonsoir, Bonsoir.” Click here to listen. You can also view a video for “Bonsoir, Bonsoir” at Zachary’s YouTube channel by clicking here.]
A demitasse of espresso beside him, Zachary Richard stares wistfully from his front porch into the rows of live oaks he planted 30 years ago when he built his Acadian-style house on a few acres off La. 93 north of Scott. The trees, like the singer-songwriter who planted them, have matured into elegant expressions of South Louisiana.
“What I do as a French songwriter is what I do as an English songwriter, and that is to express the emotions that inspired the song with as much elegance and simplicity and power as I can,” he says.
Those emotions run deep on Le Fou, his 20th album and arguably his best. Searingly understated, personal yet universal and graced with impeccable musicians including locals Sonny Landreth and Roddie Romero, Le Fou traverses an emotional landscape pitted with environmental peril, love and longing, questions of identity. There’s hardly a song on Le Fou you can call straight-up, traditional Cajun or zydeco — much of the record is, simply and beautifully, acoustic folk/pop — save for his cover of the traditional zydeco number “Bee de la Manche,” the only tune on the record Zachary didn’t write himself or with collaborators. But the indigenous rhythms, instruments and melodies of Acadiana imbue the music with a sense of place. It’s almost as if, with each passing record, Zachary is reinterpreting his native South Louisiana, and but for one stanza in one song, the album is also entirely en francaise.
“The songs write themselves — I don’t choose the language,” he explains. “Once the language declares itself then I have to obey the declaration; I don’t really have a premonition or a method or an idea what language the song is going to want to be written in.”
But geography, he adds, has a lot to do with the language in which he composes. “I think it has a lot to do with where I am in life physically,” he says. “If I hear a lot of English it means that mostly English will come out. A lot of those songs were written while I was touring in Quebec after the oil spill that summer. I was in this context that was deeply Francophone, so I’m not surprised that it happened mostly in French.”
The record is being released in the U.S. in April, although it’s been on iTunes and out in Canada for months. The decision to debut the record in Canada was an obvious one — that’s where Zachary Richard butters his bread. He’s a multi-platinum artist north of the border, more likely to be asked for an autograph in a Montreal café than at Early’s Food Store in his home town. (The City-Parish Council voted in late March to request that the state Department of Transportation rename that stretch of Highway 93, notably home to The Best Stop Supermarket, “Zachary Richard Highway.” Zachary was also recently honored as the most recent James William Rivers Prize winner by UL’s Center for Louisiana Studies, joining such past recipients as Ernest Gaines, A. Hays Town and James Lee Burke.)
Translated, the album’s title means “the crazy,” and its cover bears a photograph of Zachary, barefoot in a suit, standing on a beach with one leg and his arms raised like a teenaged Ralph Macchio. But it’s not an autobiographical presentation.
“The Fou, you would think that it’s about me being ‘the crazy,’ but there was actually some thought given to it,” he says. “The posture that I’m holding, it’s not like the Karate Kid, actually it’s the crane [a tai chi position].”
This is where it gets a little nuanced, which is typical of Zachary: The album’s title comes from “fou de Bassan,” the French name for the northern gannet, a seabird that, like the songwriter, splits its time between Canada and Louisiana. Zachary says an oil-covered northern gannet was the first bird to be pulled from the polluted Gulf of Mexico and cleaned following the BP oil spill in the spring of 2010 — an event that deeply affected a songwriter long known for his support of environmental causes.
“It’s all about the oil spill,” he says. “The concept was, OK, you buy the record and think, ‘This guy thinks he’s crazy.’ But you listen to the song and you realize, ‘Wait a minute, it’s not about this guy — it’s about a bird that was in the oil spill in 2010.’”
Le Fou as an album almost didn’t happen. Following the spill, as he was writing songs for the record, Zachary spearheaded a series of concerts in Canada over the summer and into the fall of 2010 to raise money for spill victims in Louisiana, pushing his physical and emotional limits. While home in Scott in October and the compositions just about complete, he suffered a stroke that put him in the hospital for five days and in physical therapy for months. He still has some residual numbness on his left side, although the stroke never impaired his singing or ability to play music.
“I think the most significant — and this is about my least favorite subject — aspect of that experience was realizing that one day I’m going to die,” he says.
He was 60 at the time and in vigorous health. He isn’t joking when he says the stress of organizing the benefit concerts played a role in the stroke. “I’m a musician, not a politician, and I didn’t have any talent for controlling the stress of all of that,” he says, adding in jest, “I think I got a stroke because of the oil spill. Maybe I should be suing BP.”
He’s not suing BP, Le Fou was released and thank goodness — the 13-track record is a gift. From the fierce opening track “Laisse Le Vent Souffler” (Let the Storm Wind Blow) through the bluesy “Crevasse Crevasse” (Zachary blows a mean little harp on this one) to the majestic finality of “Les Ailes des Hirondelles” (The Wings of the Swallow), Le Fou is Zachary Richard at his best.
The songs shift from plaintive and pleading to bouncing, playful and uplifting, peeling away the layers of Zachary’s influences and reconstituting them into something familiar yet new. The musicianship on the record is top-notch and understated, performed by players whose confidence trumps showmanship.
That he plays with some of the finest musicians in the world isn’t lost on the songwriter either. “Getting two or three or four — in this case it was four musicians — even though they’re some of the most talented and proficient players on the planet, getting that to gel is hard; you don’t just turn it on. You have to wait,” he says of the recording process. “There’s still this element of mystery and magic that is so cool.”
And the record is full of sonic surprises in which Zachary’s sense of orchestration and ornamentation — Sonny playing a resonator guitar on the so-fine “Clif’s Zydeco” — lights up and sparkles like the cigarette machine at Fred’s Lounge.
Le Fou is referential and reverential but never self-conscious. But many of these songs are exquisitely self-aware, written by a man who is acutely conscious of straddling multiple dimensions. “The [song] that is the most significant is the one that’s called ‘Orignal ou Caribou,’ which in English is ‘Moose or Caribou,’” Zachary explains. “And there’s this lovely line, ‘I don’t know if I’m from the north or the south or from the evening or the morning.’ That is a real symbol for me — not knowing whether I’m from Quebec or South Louisiana, whether I speak English or French.”
But he also rues the French language’s ever-tenuous toehold in his native South Louisiana: “I tell myself, the richness of my life is being able to do everything at once, but sometimes it’s maybe frustrating not to be understood in my own neighborhood, in the language which I consider to be the maternal language of the neighborhood. But I don’t hold that against anybody.”
Lafayette Regional seeking new leadership after longtime director Greg Roberts’ June resignation.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
T&T show behind the scenes
Four bedroom in Breaux Bridge or four bedroom in Opelousas
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
Volcano recovery suspended; Mossad recruiting online; high fees in Ferguson and more national and international news for Monday, September 29, 2014.
Monday's Blogs from the Bog!
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.
The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.
The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 2,068 from the previous week's total of 2,071. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,494 claims.
Museum of Fear opens its 2014 season with more scares than ever before.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The endorsements keep coming for District 9 LPSB candidate Jeremy Hidalgo, who picked up his fifth vow of support Thursday, this time from the Chamber’s political action committee.
Three bedroom traditional Broussard house or two bedroom Lafayette townhome
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter will be out knocking on doors this weekend with anti-abortion activists encouraging people to vote against his colleague, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The ACLU of Louisiana has sued Abbeville's mayor and police chief over a policy barring police from any social media use showing the city in a bad light.
Prospective Republican presidential candidates are expected to promote "religious liberty" at home and abroad at a gathering of religious conservatives Friday, with anti-Obama speeches from the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The American Zombie blog by New Orleans independent journalist Jason Berry has a photograph of U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier having dinner with Lafayette attorney Pat Juneau — yeah, that Pat Juneau, the BP claims administrator whose fate Barbier will soon decide.
But retirees and employees who face the higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs responded angrily, telling lawmakers that they shouldn't be held responsible for what they consider the Jindal administration's mismanagement of the Office of Group Benefits.
A school board candidate takes exception to the chamber’s Common Vision initiative.
Indictment accuses ‘chef’ who claims to work for the needy of stealing from a disabled man in his care.
The idea that any successful enterprise, whether it’s a business, a non-profit, or even a governmental body such as a school system, requires a bedrock of shared core beliefs and commitments is not new.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's top budget adviser says the state employee health insurance program will face a dire financial scenario without the heavily criticized changes planned by the administration.
Louisiana's last execution was in 2010, and plans for the next lethal injection have been put on hold amid an ongoing legal dispute about the drugs that would be used. More than 80 people are on death row, awaiting execution, in Louisiana.