C.J. Chenier | Can't Sit Down
album review by John Powell
C.J. Chenier may be the son of famed Zydeco accordionist Clifton Chenier, but he’s not riding any coattails. While a native to Texas, C.J.’s musical feel is deep Louisiana, the Creole-infused jazz and funk now populated with rock and pop sensibility on Can’t Sit Down, a collection of originals and excellently chosen covers. There are no frills to this album. It’s a straight-up good time. Put it on while whipping up a tasty meal, or add it to a long car ride to jolt your system. Can’t Sit Down lives up to it’s name, 11 tracks of energy.
The album title is also the name of the first track, written by C.J.’s dad and explored here for pure fun. C.J.’s band includes washboard, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and C.J. himself plays accordion, flute, piano, organ, and sings. It’s Timothy Betts’ guitar work here that adds a harder sound to the jam- that otherwise grooves over a simple and sexy accordion bumble, and then coerced into a breakdown by organ. Like an introduction to a party, “Can’t Sit Down” deserves replay.
C.J.’s songs are some of the best on the album, especially “Riding With Uncle Cleveland”, an autobiographical jaunt about having a good time. “Brown suit, wing tipped shoes,” he sings, “Paycheck in my hand.” But the part that makes you smile is the chorus: “I’m just ridin’ around with Uncle Cleveland/and his Crown Royal half a pint.”
He also slams home with “Zydeco Boogie”, which is exactly what it sounds like. He shares songwriting credits here with “T.A.” Milller, a somewhat comical pair up because the lyrics are simply, “Jump the boodie jump.” The band plays hard and fast. They are cohorts in a blast of energy that never dips. That’s where the musicianship really shines.
The covers here are, as mentioned, creative. He turns John Lee Hooker’s “Dusty Road” from a slow, semi-sad sincerity into a danceable blues-dipped happy-go-lucky. He plays old-school Zydeco player Boozoo Davis’ “Paper in My Shoe” and revamps it for the modern age. (What is meant by “paper in my shoe”, I don’t know, and is the only thing that doesn’t translate…)
The ultimate cover, however, is Tom Wait’s “Clap Hands”. Now, this critic openly admits he doesn’t see what’s so brilliant about Tom Waits, but he will admit that he gave him another shot after C.J.’s version of this lyrically interesting and complex song. While the Waits version is a whispered, eerie story driven by hand percussion and rhythm, C.J. brightens the corners, with washboard keeping time and the bass roving like a wild boar crossing paths with a wild train- C.J.’s accordion. It’s simply a wonderful version of this song.
To close the album out, C.J. takes on Curtis Mayfield’s “We Gotta Have Peace”, an original tough to beat. The soul and passion in the original- not to mention the horns- is a strong backbone, but C.J. seems fearlessly able to pepper his Zydeco flavor onto these old tunes, and his version is just as true.
Can’t Sit Down was recorded in one live session with few overdubs. C.J. says, “We wanted this to feel like we were at the club having a party with you.” Success. It’s not an overly compressed album, not overproduced, and everything being live, the overall mix is organic. C.J. doesn’t have the best voice, but it’s not about outdoing Curtis Mayfield vocally, it’s about that party vibe, and if you think you’re down with Zydeco, check this out and come to one conclusion: you are.
Bottom line: C.J. is an excellent accordion player, plays great tunes, and made a solid Zydeco album.