In 1991 The Bluerunners leapt from Lafayette, Louisiana into the white-hot glare of the national limelight. Propelled by a seamless (if seemingly unlikely) blend of frenetic cow-punk originals and traditional Cajun music, The Bluerunners’ self-titled major label album earned the group rave reviews in rock circles and an important niche in the rich musical history of South Louisiana. Discerning critics praised The Bluerunners’ eclectic yet organic approach and the distinctive songwriting of Mark Meaux, making favorable comparisons to the likes of The Band, and Los Lobos.
Fourteen years, three subsequent albums and many career cycles later, The Bluerunners shine radiant and luminescent once again, thanks to their glowing new album, Honey Slides, released on their newly-formed label, Bayou Vista. As always, The Bluerunners remain rooted in the Cajun music and Creole zydeco of their home turf, as well as the gutbucket blues and country that form musical lingua franca of the South. The edgy punk sensibility of their early years is still evident as well.
But Honey Slides also reflects The Bluerunners’ maturing, burnished skills. Their effortless groove grinds and lilts in tandem, as befits a band based in a city where everybody dances. Their deft instrumental chops and heartfelt vocals reveal years of doctoral studies at Bandstand University, Meaux plays guitars (lead and rhythm), mandolin, and fiddle on “Mardi Gras Jig”. Ade Huval’s agile accordion work underscores the band’s South Louisiana identity, while lap-steel guitarist Willy Golden makes the blues and country connection. The impeccable pocket provided by bassist Cal Stevenson and drummer Frank Kincel prove that bass and drums are indeed “one instrument played by two people.” Special guest Mike Chiasson adds rhythmic texture on washboard throughout the album, while Mitch Reed plays some fine fiddle on “Coulee Rodair” and Valse De Grand Pere”. Susan Cowsill – whose lengthy resumé includes the late, lamented Continental Drifters as well as The Cowsills – adds haunting vocal harmonies to the poignant “Ghost of a Girl.”
Among Honey Slides’ many revelations is Mark Meaux’s growth as a wise, eloquent lyricist who speaks volumes with deceptively simple lyrics. Sophisticated but disarmingly down-home, Meaux’s songs – and his wry delivery, as the band’s signature vocalist – embody the Bluerunners’ urbane/rural balance. So do the full-throttle vocals of Ade Huval, who sings lead on “Coulee Rodair” and “Lune de Minuit.”
Mark Meaux formed The Bluerunners in 1987. This was an especially inventive musical era, even by South Louisiana’s high standards. Lafayette and environs were cresting a heady wave of cultural resurgence that began swelling in the late 1970s. The region’s French music and dialects, scorned and suppressed for decades, came to be revered, celebrated, and documented. A collective weight lifted from Cajun and Creole shoulders as conformist assimilation into America’s mainstream was replaced by ethnic pride. Elderly musicians – such as Dennis McGee, and Canray Fontenot – enjoyed unexpected late-life career revivals. Young musicians – such as Michael Doucet and Zachary Richard – embraced the rich local repertoire of Cajun music and zydeco. They honored this legacy, once dismissed as passé, with verbatim performances of obscure archaic classics that became favorites once again. But they also blended Cajun music and zydeco with a wealth of far-flung contemporary styles to invent a vital new sound that evolved constantly. All genres were fair play for this creative process, and Mark Meaux chose to meld his Cajun roots with punk rock.
“I loved bands like X and The Blasters. We heard all that, growing up here, we picked up on everything that was popular nationally. Cajun music wasn’t considered important in our house when I was a kid,” Meaux reflects. “But at that time, nobody really gave much credence to Cajun culture, it just was there. It wasn’t until a few years later when I was a teenager going out to hear live music, people like the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, and bands like The Red Beans and Rice Revue, that it started to sink in how unique this area really is. And later, when I formed the Bluerunners, we did the ‘harder, faster, louder punk rock thing’ but we could also hear the local musical and cultural elements that kept popping up in our music. Seventeen years later I can see that it’s been a long trip of learning about ourselves, and where we come from. The greatest gift we’ve had is the long line of musical “teachers” that live or have lived among us.”
This stylistic synthesis is evident on Honey Slides. The Cajun/zydeco dance-hall tradition, with its blues and country components, is amply evident on “Working Man’s Zydeco,” “Coulee Rodair,” “Walking and Sighing,” the hypnotic, one-chord “Mardi Gras Jig,” the sweet twin fiddles of “Valse de Grand Pere,” the self-explanatory “King Snake Crawl,” and “Lune de Minuit,” with its waltzing homage to Clifton Chenier. Just try not dance to these songs! The full-tilt romp of “Black Cat Bone” recaptures The Bluerunners’ pioneer punk-Cajun synthesis, with Willy Golden’s howl-at-the-moon, blues-drenched vocals. Meaux’s sly vocal phrasing and succinct story-telling highlight “Ghost of a Girl,” the soul-baring, funky “The Grave Digger,” and the album’s tender closing number, “Big Head.”
Expertly produced by Mark Meaux and recording engineer Ivan Klisanin, Honey Slides was recorded in Lafayette. This decision underscores The Bluerunners’ strong sense of regional identity and musical community. “We’re indebted to so many musicians,” Meaux observes. “Clifton Chenier, Dewey Balfa, Canray Fontenot, Boozoo Chavis. And maybe even more importantly, the folks that directly proceeded us, like Michael Doucet and Beausoleil, Zachary Richard, and Sonny Lnadreth, who showed us the importance of the culture through their work. They could have chosen any genre of music to work in, but they always played from a Louisiana perspective first. That showed us how important they felt the Cajun/Creole culture was, and how important it was to include French lyrics in their music. That had a far greater impact on us than any sociological lecture ever could have – and all three of those artists are making the best music of their careers right now. ‘Many other folks influence us,” Meaux continues, “both from here and elsewhere – Los Lobos, Bob Dylan, the icons. But something that really helped us create Honey Slides is the wealth of great new young bands and players from this area – The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Feu Follet, Courtney Granger, Joel Savoy. And our contemporaries- Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Mitch Reed, Kevin Wimmer, and Dirk Powel. All these great musicians live in and around Lafayette and are doing some of their best work right now. It’s exciting. It inspires us Bluerunners. We felt like we’d better bring something good to the table just to keep up with the pack”.
“Never mind that Lafayette’s Bluerunners have stuck it out longer than the majority of bands working the Hub City scene. Regrets, there’ve been a few, but hands down, the Bluerunners outdid themselves this time with their fifth effort in a storied 17-year-run. Gone are the alt-country influences and much of the Cajun traditionalism found on the previous couple of outings. Rather this time they’re more akin to the Latin Playboys interpreting artsy blues-based zydeco while howling on the Atchafalaya levee under a glowing full moon. Scrumptious tunes like “Voodoomens and Voodoo Dolls” and Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Black Cat Bone” featuring Will Golden’s toasty slide run ahead of the curve while another hipster, “I Got You,” resembles Bob Dylan trapped in an insufferable South Louisiana summer without an air conditioner. A well-concocted brew of sorts, there’s garage band old school zydeco (“Working Man’s Zydeco”), a nod to Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot (“Coulee Rodair”) and cerebrally crafted songs (“The Gravedigger”) textured with layers of meanings and sonic coolness. Cal Stevenson’s beautiful “Valse de Grand Pere” is built upon subtly swirling undertones. “Lune du Minuit” with accordionist Adrian Huval’s gliding five-row stylings is a good ole fashion clanky waltz. Killer stuff.” – Dan Willging, Offbeat Magazine
“The last time singer-guitarist Mark Meaux and his band were noticed outside their Lafayette swampland was in the early ’90’s when a thrilling if uneasy sonic alliance of zydeco and X inspired punk rock fired up their debut album on Island. Here again the ‘Runners make a belated bid for wider recognition by going beyond dance-hall research to find a fresh, edgy sound that simultaneously reveals their full understanding of Cajun/Creole culture and their affinity for blues-rock recklessness. Accordian player Ade Huval works wonders focusing the intensity in “Coulee Rodaire,” “Kingsnake Crawl,” and 11 other selections” – Frank-John Hadley, Down Beat Magazine
“Somewhere between BeauSoleil and Los Lobos, two great American roots music bands, there’s the Bluerunners. The Lafayette band’s roots-dipped Honey Slides manages to be rocking, waltzing, two-stepping and laid-back and contemplative, all in a mere 13 tracks.” – John Wirt, The Advocate