American Music of Grace and Grief in Louisiana, featuring Rotary Downs, and Marc Broussard

By Daniel Garrett

Rotary Downs, Traces (Rookery Records, 2014)

Marc Broussard, A Life Worth Living (Vanguard Records, 2014)

It has been a time of mourning in Louisiana music culture recently—with the death of the great musician Allen Toussaint (1938 – 2015), while touring in Spain, and that of singer-songwriter Jillian Johnson (1982 – 2015) while attending a film—she was among those attacked while in a Lafayette theater by a gunman.  The music has its losses but it is also what people turn to—along with family and prayer and food and sports—to get through their days: and some of the music that has been embraced are recordings by Glen David Andrews (Redemption), BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet (From Bamako to Carencro), Brother Dege (Folk Songs of the American Longhair), Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band (Zydeco Stuff), Cowboy Mouth (Go), The Garden District Trio (Then and Now), Givers (New Kingdom), Nigel Hall (Ladies and Gentleman…), Lost Bayou Ramblers (Gasa Gasa Live), The Jason Marsalis Vibe Quartet (The 21st Century Trad Band), Nicholas Payton (Numbers), The Rebirth Brass Band (Move Your Body), Zachary Richard (Last Kiss), and Christian Scott (Stretch Music).  Valcour Records has released I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country, a box set produced by Joel Savoy and Joshua Caffery, with new French and English interpretations of folk songs gathered by Alan and John Lomax, featuring Marc Broussard, and Anna Laura Edmiston, Tiffany Lamson, Zachary Richard, Steve Riley, Ann Savoy, and, among others, Cedric Watson and David Greely.  Marc Broussard’s solo recording A Life Worth Living is worth consideration too, as is Traces by Rotary Downs.

The rock band Rotary Downs’ album Traces is the work of a band that seems intent on suggesting consciousness—the cosmopolitan and the local, the enlightened and the deranged.  Its passion is roving.  Lead singer and guitarist James Marler and guitarist Chris Colombo, keyboard player and percussionist Anthony Curccia, bassist Jason Rhein, bassist and guitarist Alex Smith, drummer Zack Smith are Rotary Downs. “Orion” is fast, with light beats and expanding rhythms, fine and intense; for a song that is broadly existentialist—about individual life and the human condition.  The wordless, chanting chorus near the end does recall 1960s rock.  With a clear warm sound, and observant—even critical—lyrics, the song “Tent City” is about social vulnerability, economic marginality.  “I see god, I see god,…I see odd, I see odd” comes the declaration in the uptempo rock song “Anthony’s Odyssey,” easily moving from reverence to irreverence (the song mentions as well a night train in Marrakech).  The band Rotary Downs is not interested only in life in the provinces and parishes—it pursues the world.

“Country Killers,” on Traces, is textured, especially the choral voices, male and female—it has a really good arrangement.  The lyric references in “Incognito,” a busy, cheery song, are to international scenes; and it has several shifts in structure.  “You’re my type, a total stranger,” declares the narrator—which is, obviously, very funny in its honesty and lack of sentimentality.  Somewhat lamenting (voice), yet whimsical (music) is “The Sandwich Islands.”  The song “Flowers in Bloom” has a very fast, dense sound.  “AKA Godzilla” is a bright sound experiment.  Traces is a good short album, more expansive in sound and subject than anticipated.

Marc Broussard’s song collection A Life Worth Living comes in a beautifully illustrated jacket, featuring images of a country life with family and community, cooking and music.  The album itself seems partly influenced by rock, hard blues, and something softer—it has more than one kind of song and subject and seems a very personal album.  “Hurricane Heart” is warm, soulful but downbeat, with a slight shuffling rhythm; and in it, Broussard says, “I didn’t mean to break your heart—I’m just reckless.”  The song “Dying Man” is a hard-driving blues, featuring lines about an erotic ache in a lonely town; and “Perfect to Me,” with its theme of the intoxication of love, is a jangly country waltz, with descriptions of the simples clothes (T-shirt, cutoff jeans) of his beloved and her independence and his excitement and the songs she inspires.  About separation and reconciliation, “Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry” is soft soul, rhythm-and-blues; and “Edge of Heaven” is a textured romantic ballad.  “A Life Worth Living” is a soul ballad featuring a woman’s biography, a portrait of an elder, Mamie Ruth who with her husband James Gerald brought forth a generation with love through difficult times.  Some of the words are kind of rough, an awkward grasp for significance: “With a love so strong that it took a hurricane / to try to wash away toe pain of Mamie’s family / as if they could, as if they would / heal the pain of losing Mamie.”

“Honesty” is a low-voiced, slow, sexy declaration of commitment and the need for honesty.  A woman’s demand for patience, for time, makes a man more anxious, desirous.  He wants an honest meeting, face to face, body to body.  “Another Day” is a dramatic male/female duet with Genevieve Schatz about a mistaken relationship, featuring two people not right for each other; with piano accompaniment.  A slow dance song, “Weight of the World” is about love and loyalty despite the world’s distractions and pressures.  The sentimental “Shine” is about being home in the south, under the summer sun; and yet, “There’s nothing ‘bout the summertime / that eases my mind.”  Tough encouragement is the tone of “Give Em Hell,” featuring recovery from loss.  “From birth to death, / our ears are filled with hard words and bad breath / How do we decide / what’s for keeps and what’s for letting go?” Marc Broussard asks in “I’ll Never Know,” acknowledging the lasting difference between people, the prevalence of war, and the need for wisdom, and there is despair but it offers acceptance of life’s mysteries: “I’m just helpless to all things I’ll never know,” Broussard sings.

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Daniel Garrett has written about art, books, business, film, and politics, and his work has appeared in The African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext, Film International, Offscreen, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today, as well as The Compulsive Reader. Author contact: or