2/19/13 Horaces in the Arts

The first Horace that comes to mind is Quentus Horatius Flaccus (65-27BC), known to the world, like Madonna, Cher, Elvis, Sting, Prince, and Bono, simply by a single name. Horace was a great Roman poet who lived during the time of Emperor Augustus (Octavian). Some say that Horace produced the only poetry worth reading during the entire Roman era. That may be an overstatement, but some swear by it. It is likely that there were other poets producing some great poetry during the thousand year span of the Roman Republic/Empire, but Horace takes his place at the top of the heap. He may have been a singer, too, though we have no evidence of that, since he lived quite a bit before there was a means to record it. I’d like to have a good CD of Horace reciting or singing his own poetry, but I’m afraid that the recent EBay ad I saw was a fake. You gotta watch what you buy on Ebay; there’s a lot of shenanigans out there.

Thinking about single name monikers for famous people: this is nothing new. Remember Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ovid, Diogenes, Virgil, Homer, Agamemnon, Paris, Hector, Pliny (both of them), Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner? They make the modern single-namers seem like copycats. However it works, being so famous that you are identified by a single name is good indication that your career took a good turn. I suppose, forever, when the single name Horace is mentioned, Quentus Horatius Flaccus will come to mind, at least to mind of all those who know who Horace is. Schools have shied away from classical education, so it is entirely possible that no one will remember who he is except for historians and the few remaining classical educators. As for me, I know the old Horace.

Then, there is Horace Trahan (http//:www.horacetrahan.com), slightly less well known than our Roman Horace, but capable of still directing his own destiny, having much more in front of him than behind him. The native of Ossun, Louisiana, is the real thing, for all of you who insist the on having the genuine article of artistic expression infused with local culture. On his new CD, ALL THE WAY, you can almost smell the crawfish on his breath coming through the speakers.

Speaking of speakers, I went down to my studio this morning and inserted Horace’s ALL THE WAY CD, jacked up the volume, and had him blasting through the Mackie HR824’s. I listened once through the Mackies, then slipped on a pair of Sennheiser HD280 headphones and listened again, with the Mackies still up so I could feel the beat. It is a good thing when I want to listen to a CD twice.

I came about this CD by my close friend, Steve McCartney, who is the director of the Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Library. Steve, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, and a Rajin’ Cajun graduate of The University of Louisiana/Lafayette, is Horace’s cousin. Steve kindly hand delivered this CD to me a couple of months ago and I have been neglectful in listening to it, but I don’t listen to the music of many others, so it has taken me this long to have the time to sit down and listen closely to someone else’s music. Thanks, Steve, for bringing this to me. I’ve heard two Horace Trahan CD’s so far, and I liked them both. The first CD Steve gave me is not listed on Horace’s website, so if you want one, stick with ALL THE WAY.

Ossun, Louisiana, is in Lafayette Parish. That is about as Acadiana as you can get. I have been over nearly every pig trail in Louisiana, having lived there and traveled for five years from 1986 through 1990. I have been all over Lafayette parish, from Lafayette, itself, to Scott, Cankton, Duson, Mire, Broussard . . . but, somehow, I missed the unincorporated town of Ossun. I looked it up on the map, and sure enough, I’ve been right through it as I passed from Scott, Louisiana, and up LA 93 to Sunset, and from there to Opelousas. Folks, this is Cajun country, and I’ve been through every foot of it. I can name nearly all of the towns, many of them off the beaten path for the Cajun Country touristas – – When you’ve been to St. Martinville, Erath, Eunice, Centerville, Ville Platte, and Abbeville, you’ve made the rounds. One of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life lives in New Iberia. The Cajun people are a gracious people, and have always been extremely gracious to me . . . God continue to bless them all.

So, Horace Trahan is not performing Cajun/Zydeco music from a studied, intellectual standpoint (Zydeco is how I’d label him). . . it is who he is. My favorite picks out of the 15 songs on the CD, which is a lot of music for the money nowadays, are GETCHA SOME, THE SKY IS THE LIMIT, GET THE PARTY STARTED, KEEP YOUR HEAD UP, TIME TO LET IT GO, ALL THE WAY, and SCHOOL IS COOL. The longest song is THE SKY IS THE LIMIT (3:59), so it seems that Horace had it in mind to make this recording for airplay, since most radio stations refuse to play anything over 4 minutes. Keeping songs under 4 minutes is a talent I completely lack.

The feel of the recording and production is sort of Techno-Funk meets Zydeco. Some of the production values exceed what I prefer in an album, but I think Horace was going for the dance record, and this is a matter of taste . . . purely subjective. The music I like is so alternative, no one listens to it but me and a couple of others, so I am not the best judge. I could have used a bit less compression and air-thumping bass drum, and the distracting loud cymbal crashes panned hard left, then hard right, then hard left. I don’t think this is even clever use of knobs on a mixing console . . . to me, it just distracts from the essence of the music. The back of the CD proclaims that Grammy Award winning Ivan Klisanin recorded, mixed, and mastered the record, and it is perfectly recorded, mixed, and mastered to be a commercially viable recording/club DJ record. I’ve never won an award for anything, much less a Grammy, so be careful before you accept any of my ideas about how someone else’s music should sound. I just know what I like, and I do not like the overall sound of the recording . . . it is too sterile for such an organic music. Keep in mind that I gauge all Zydeco music by the standard which got me started to liking Zydeco . . . the great Wayne Toups. Organic is too mild a word to apply to Wayne Toups. Wayne is as sweaty as a young Tina Turner. Some folks like this . . . others don’t.

The music, however, is a completely different thing from the recording’s production values. THE SKY IS THE LIMIT is sort of like Zydeco meets The Band. This is a good combination. Anything that suggests Levon Helm without intentionally trying to suggest Levon Helm is a remarkable achievement. I don’t know what was in Horace’s mind when he wrote and performed this song, nor will I try to be so clairvoyant. Somewhere along the line, though, I think he absorbed some of The Band.

The song KEEP YOUR HEAD UP was sort of like Zydeco meets Dire Straits, which is another good combination. As before, anything that suggests Mark Knopfler without trying to intentionally do so is very desirable; at least I find it so.

I really liked the song TIME TO LET IT GO. The credits list Chantelle Trahan as background vocals. I don’t know if this is Horace’s wife, daughter, sister, cousin, or what, but when it’s time to sing, Ms. Trahan, let it fly!! I don’t know what the production intent is here, but before the song was over, I wished to hear her less subdued.

I REALLY liked the discordant sounds Horace pushed from his accordion on the song DON’T STOP THE MUZIK. It is a brave thing to intentionally make discordant sounds. The astute musician knows that the resolution that follows the discord is a very powerful thing. Horace made great use of that. I think the “DJ” referred to in the lyrics was a club DJ, since this song had an overall feel of club music produced for a dance crowd. I think, perhaps, this is the audience Horace is pursuing. If that is the case, then he is getting the sound he wants and making his brand of Zydeco accessible to a larger market than his Acadiana.

The song ALL THE WAY grabbed me, I think, particularly, because I could hear the buttons and valves working on the accordion. I could hear the push of the buttons and “fop” of the valves. I like to be that close to the music. Most recording engineers and producers detest that sort of organic sound, and I detest their detestation and their professional desire for musical sterility. If you want sterile food, go to a McDonald’s. If you want something that tastes as organically delicious as it is, then try some garfish balls at the Pig Stand in Ville Platte. The former is predictable. The latter? It may be a big roll of the dice, but you’ll either roll a seven or crap out . . . you most likely won’t roll a benign six. I’ll take the garfish balls covered in a cayenne pepper sauce and most likely roll a seven; but I’m willing to risk crapping out for the chance at the experience of the sublime.

The song SCHOOL IS COOL was a welcome surprise. The voices of children are always a joy to hear.

I’d like for my own son, Canaan Sharp, to meet Canaan Trahan, one of the background vocalists. Canaan has never met another Canaan. Maybe these two can shake hands one day…besides, my own Canaan is a native Louisianian, born in Baton Rouge in 1989 when we had the pleasure of living there. I always tell folks, and it’s the truth, that if circumstances had been a bit different and we had stayed just one more year in Louisiana, we never would have returned to Mississippi. I never met a more gracious, joyful, and hospitable people than Louisianians, particularly those west of New Orleans along and about thirty miles either side of interstate 10. God bless them all.

I enjoyed the work of the saxophonist and flautist on the record, particularly the flute working with the accordion on the title cut ALL THE WAY. The guitar player is a journeyman guitarist, flawlessly executing every guitar solo. While I enjoyed his flawless execution, I kept waiting to hear a performance. I am still waiting.

I suspect a live version of this recording would have a completely different feel and sound which I would like better. Then again, I LIKE LIVE MUSIC. This was real music, but somehow passionate performance was victimized by flawless studio production. It’s not easy to get a passionate, reckless, reach for the stars performance in a studio recording, but then it’s never easy to reach for the stars and successfully grab them. Some folks do. If they miss while reaching, though, it’s OK, since it’s the reaching I’m looking for, and the occasional touching of a star even if we can’t grab hold of it.

Horace, if you read this, keep on doing what you do. I hear the energy of a Wayne Toups in your original music, and I respect it and admire your writing. The production polish takes away the music’s raw edge, and Louisianians, just like Mississippians, will never be noted for their polish. It is the raw edge people are looking for, but it’s the raw edge that studio recordings can take away, since the prevailing wisdom is to make everything perfect. Sometimes our perfection is found in our flawed humanity. You can help folks find that raw edge that reveals our humanity. A producer that will not accept anything less than your gut wrenching, sweat dripping performance, pushed almost to the point of failure will help. Roll the dice, and enjoy some garfish balls that just might later make you sorry you forgot to pack some Rolaids.

By the way, I liked this enough to listen to it TWICE. It will go in my truck for several more listens.

ALL THE WAY/Horace Trahan/no record label listed, but it is available through iTunes and directly from Horace’s website linked above.

It WILL make you want to get up and dance and shake your butt a bit! That doesn’t happen to me too often.

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