The band is called Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. The guy in the middle holds a button-box that squeezes like an accordion, but shouts hallelujah like a big brass band. The fiddle cracks wise and warm, the guitar falls off the edge of the earth, and the rhythm section is purring rumble like a Coupe DeVille of shark-fin vintage. It all flows as a liquid-smooth groove, topped with three heartfelt voices harmonizing in 17th-century French from the steamy sub-tropics.
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys began over twenty five years ago with a reputation for excellence. Their stunningly clean and cohesive performance of Cajun French music from the backwaters of Southwest Louisiana propelled them into the world music limelight early on, and by their third release, Trace of Time, had garnered them a Grammy nomination in the worldwide field of traditional folk music, another in 2004 for Bon Reve, in 2009 for Live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and again in 2011 for their latest release, Grand Isle.
From the day they started, they have gone from strength to strength. Never before in Cajun music has a comparable wealth of skills been brought to the same table.
When all that heart and all that skill focus on the revelry of a hot two-step, then turn on a dime and deliver an a cappella ballad, then play something that sounds like Howlin’ Wolf fell in lust with a Creole girl, you’ve found the most Cajun music you can find in any one spot. You’ve found Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.
Steve Riley, of Mamou Louisiana, is a widely acknowledged master of the Cajun accordion and its singularly powerful sound. There has never been an official competition among Cajun accordionists. Whenever a contest does arise, Steve Riley usually wins it, or judges it. Despite the lack of official metrics or quantifying factors, it remains true that most people think Steve is the best there is, and very few would argue the point. His playing is a standard by which timing, phrasing and ingenuity are measured on the royal instrument of South Louisiana. That, combined with his searing, emotional vocals, songwriting, soulful fiddling and onstage front man charisma have led many to refer to the band simply as “Steve Riley.” For many, that would be enough, but for this band, and its devoted fans, there’s much, much more.
Kevin Wimmer has been playing fidle since the tender age of three. He performed frequently with Dewey Balfa and learned the essence of the tradition directly from him. Over the years he has performed most notably all over the globe with Preston Frank and the blues and swing inspired Red Stick Ramblers. Kevin brings a Creole influence to the Mamou Playboys, as exhitibed by his unique fiddle repertoire and his powerful vocals.
Sam Broussard generates a cyclone of guitar. On acoustic, electric and electric slide he carries the music of his ancestry farther than it’s ever gone, and garners the lion’s share of spontaneous applause for his soloing skills. Add to that his songwriting, arranging and tenor singing and the result is a feast of creativity that can motivate a packed dance hall or a concert audience.
Kevin Dugas on drums and Brazos Huval on bass are a Cadillac V-8 of a rhythm section. Known throughout South Louisiana for their hydromatic groove, they are the Wyman and Watts, the Muscle Shoals, the Double Trouble of the bayous, and they draw crowds in their own right wherever they perform.