Chris Belleau – Swamp Fever | Album Review

Chris Belleau – Swamp Fever

Proud Dog Records – 2017

8 tracks; 42 minutes

Louisiana’s Chris Belleau is a talented guy who plays trombone, harp and accordion as well as singing lead on all these tracks, six of which he wrote (three in collaboration with Billy E Henderson). Jon Smith’s sax combines with Chris’ trombone to form the horn section throughout. Nelson Blanchard engineered the sessions in Baton Rouge and plays guitar and keys; Mike Esnault also contributes keys to half the songs and there are two different rhythm sections, David Hyde and Brian Brignac and David Ellis and Keith Simoneaux doing the honours on bass and drums on four tracks apiece. The material ranges across classic blues, jazz and Louisiana swamp-pop.

Opener “Blues Is On The Rise” sets a moody atmosphere for a tale of how the blues gets into a young man’s heart, possibly an element of autobiography in the lyrics. Chris’ light voice carries the tune easily and the horn arrangement is excellent, Chris adding some solid harp work also. No Louisiana record should be without an accordion-driven tune like “Hold The One Who Cares” which brings back memories of Fats Domino in Nelson’s piano playing and Chris then shows his versatility with “Bienville Blues” which, despite its title, owes as much to jazz traditions as blues, a well crafted instrumental with both horns prominent, Chris trombone solo a particular delight. “The Healer” rejoins us all to find the healing power of love within ourselves over a soulful tune with plenty of tambourine and Chris’ harp.

We take a clear step into jazz with a superb version of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, originally written as a tribute to the saxophonist Lester Young whose hat was his trademark. On this version Chris’ trombone and Jon’s sax combine beautifully on the elegant chorus with Mike’s electric piano sounding almost like vibes, both Chris and Jon featured solo later in the tune. Mingus having been a bassist himself it is appropriate that David Hyde’s bass is also to the fore in the mix – excellent stuff! If that was jazz, Louis Armstrong often represented the place where jazz met popular music and “When You’re Smiling” was a big hit for Louis. Chris sings it well but the arrangement is great, pure New Orleans with the rhythm section hitting that familiar New Orleans second line, Mike’s piano well in line with them and both horn players enjoying themselves.

“The Treater” explores the story of a backwoods sage who knows how to cure illness but has no formal qualifications but the Cajuns place their confidence in him. With Chris on both harp and accordion we are deep into Louisiana both musically and lyrically and the title track follows on in the same vein as Chris explains how he needs to get back to his home and to his lover to cure his “Swamp Fever”. The tune is relaxed and slow with Jon’s breathy sax starting things off as Chris recalls the dull side of being a touring musician who just wants to get home: “I’ve got to get back to Baton Rouge and find that girl from the bayou and let her kisses gently cool this swamp fever.” Chris’ laid-back trombone solo fits the song like a glove.

This is an album full of fine playing and varied material. Whilst not strictly a blues album, those who enjoy a blend of jazz and New Orleans influences should find this one to their taste. Recommended!

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