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Lost Bayou Ramblers - Zack Walther Band - The Grascals - Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

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Our Americana column starts off with a 20th anniversary set from beloved Cajun band Lost Bayou Ramblers but there's a lot of additional good listening here too from Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, the Grascals and Zack Walther Band.

Lost Bayou Ramblers - Asteur
Asteur is a 15-song career-spanning live set from this popular traditional Cajun band where the songs were recorded at various shows that took place in New Orleans earlier this year and in 2018. Almost half of the set is drawn from the band's 2017 Kalenda album, including the waltz "Cote Clair," the classic Cajun dance track "Granny Smith," the rhythmic "Rice Pump" and title cut "Kalenda" where the guys ladle on effects and fuzz guitar for a mix that is as psychedelic as it is swampy. "Les Mardi Gras," "Vermillion Vortex," "Tune Up" and "Tour Les Matins" are some of the other songs performed, and with all the rocking accordion, fiery fiddling and lyrics sung in French all you'll need otherwise to have yourself an authentic Cajun party is a crawfish boil. Asteur, which celebrates the band's 20th anniversary, is available as a stand-alone CD or packaged with the On Va Continuer! documentary DVD which loosely chronicles the making of Kalenda.

Zack Walther Band - The Westerner
A roots and blues music power trio of sorts, Zack Walther Band consists of namesake Zack Walther on vocals and guitar, Matthew Briggs on drums and bass and Mike Atkins on keyboards. Walther is a mainstay on the Texas scene but "What Kind of Man" is a simmering, funky stew that reflects a love for the swampy tones of New Orleans too. The cleverly-titled "I'm Going Out of Your Mind" is a sweet blues rocker done in a style that fans of Robert Cray will like while "When the Show Comes to Town" is a percolating R&B dance cut with a couple of nods to the disco era included. "Meet in the Middle" is a bouncy pop groove where Walther duets with Susan Gibson; a frenetic vocal mélange mid-song accentuates just exactly why there needs to be a meeting in the middle. Also included is a nice take on the Isaac Hayes/David Porter-penned hit "Hold On, I'm Comin'."

The Grascals - Straighten the Curves
Now half way through their second decade of existence and here with new guitarist and singer Chris Davis in the fold, the Grascals sound better than ever on this set filled with sweet harmonies ("They Laughed"), spirited and precise pickin' ("AndiWayne") and a talent for interpretation (Eddie Rabbit's "Drivin' My Life Away".) "Who Needs You" is a remembrance of an ex that, unlike the title connotes, is not negative; in fact the song is filled with down home picking geared to getting the barn dance started. As bluegrass traditionalists go, it doesn't get much better than this.

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers - The Choosing Road
In the liner notes for this release Jones says he wrote songs for the effort without worrying about how the works would be classified or how they'd be perceived by different audiences. Perhaps only he can hear the specific results of that attitude; what fans will hear is a set that is bluegrass-based but that mashes up with folk sensibility and superlative lyricism, like on "I Can't Change the Rhyme" where Jones' heartfelt words end in time for the band to romp a little on the outro. Jones wrote or co-wrote everything here with the exception of a cover of Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again;" all are perfect examples of the fluidity of the definition of bluegrass.

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