Born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, you might think that Cajun singer, songwriter, and accordion player Ganey Arsement makes his music on the fringes of Cajun country. Actually, Lake Charles is more of a crossroads, a meeting point between the honky-tonks of East Texas (Beaumont, Texas, the home of George Jones, is 45 minutes away), and the Cajun dancehalls of Southwest Louisiana. Ganey's music reflects these crossroads, and on his new album, Le Forgeron, he slips as easily between the cranking heat of the Cajun accordion and the electric twang of East Texas country and electric blues.
Ganey sings in French primarily, but more than that he also writes songs in French, a relatively rare thing for Cajun artists these days, many of whom can't speak the language fluently. But Ganey comes from a family steeped in the tradition. His great-grandfather, André Doucet, was a blacksmith and a well-known accordion player. You can hear him playing here with fiddler/vocalist Vinus Lejeune on the last track, his titular "Two-Step de Forgeron" (The Blacksmith's Two-Step), recorded in the 1970s.
Ganey grew up around his French-speaking great-grandpa, and for years wanted to update Doucet's autobiographical song. As Ganey says in the liner notes, "His recording of Le Two Step du Forgeron, when I was but eight years old, lit a fire in me that has burned uncontrollably, ever since. It is what started me on my musical journey." The title track to the new album, "Le Forgeron", is his version of his great-grandfather's signature song, a chance for Ganey to pay homage to the rich Cajun heritage that's so inspired him, but also a chance to look forward to the sound of Lake Charles today.
Most of the songs on Le Forgeron are originals, written in French and English by Ganey. He originally aspired to be a writer, studying English in college and focusing on writing poetry. He started writing French poetry and then thought, "Why not try my hand at writing a song in French?" Clearly, songwriting is in his blood, because any of the songs on the new album could be picked up as Cajun classics. "C'est Trop Tard" is a great Cajun dance song about hard economic times, while "Bayou Anglais" is a fun song from the lengthy repertoire of Cajun songs about beautiful women. But what sets Ganey apart is his insightful and beautiful songwriting in both French and English. On "Here in my Arms," he tells the story of his grandparents love and the passing of his grandfather. The song has a hopeful end, with the image of his grandparents dancing in the herafter, but Ganey struggled with the difficulty of writing a song about these deaths in his family. Ultimately, writing the song in French and English enabled him to talk to both sides of his family, and to bring his American and Cajun heritages together. It's a powerful moment that speaks to Ganey's artistry, especially in an idiom dominated by dancehall anthems.
Ganey's got a great love for the blues and early country music that's easily discernible. The classic Lake Charles triangle of blues, country and Cajun heard on this album can also be heard in the music of nearby friends and Louisiana music legends Jo-El Sonnier and Doug Kershaw, both of whom Ganey sometimes performs with live. For example, "Pipeliner Blues" by Western Swing fiddler Moon Mullican, mixes East Texas twang, an old country blues foundation, and some of Ganey's hard-driving Cajun accordion. "In the Pines" is a tribute to Leadbelly, a fellow son of Louisiana and a huge source of inspiration for Ganey, who often imagines what a meeting between Leadbelly and the great Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin would have been like. Ganey's song "Small Town" draws from the bluesier strains of Texas country roots music, and "I'm Sorry" sounds like it could be heard on CMT.
There are a lot of different influences in Ganey Arsement's new album, Le Forgeron, but that's to be expected from an artist at the crossroads of some of the most musically fertile land in America. This is pure Americana, at once informed by our shared traditions, but driven to keep moving, to keep driving down the highway of American roots music.