In the Cajun musical world, "Balfa" is one of those names like "Ardoin" and "Guillory" that denotes an instantly recognizable standard of excellence, thanks to the influential playing of Dewey Balfa the late, legendary Cajun fiddler whose daughter Christine leads Balfa Toujours with husband Dirk Powell.
Live at Whiskey River Landing (Rounder), recorded at Terry Angelle's club of the same name in southwest Louisiana, is the first of this critically lauded band's albums to capture it in the setting where its unassuming appeal is most engaging.
The band's confident musicianship is evident throughout, but the triangle-accented instrumental "Le Reel Fruge" (RealAudio excerpt) provides a particularly good showcase for the interplay between Kevin Wimmer's lead fiddle and Powell's low fiddle.
Christine Balfa's sweet, clear soprano sounds more relaxed than on studio recordings, as she jokes with the cheering audience and sings light-hearted plaints like "Tow Truck Blues" (RealAudio excerpt), a midtempo tune she wrote with Powell after his car broke down en route to his sister's wedding.
She brings a keening edge to traditional songs such as "La Valse des Pins" and her father's genteel "Casse Pas Ma Tete," but lets Powell and Wimmer take the lead on amusements such as Powell's "Le Two-Step de Bon Cafe" and Lawrence Walker's "Keep Your Hands Off It" (RealAudio excerpt), a fun, rollicking blues.
Those songs, like the hopeful two-step "La Chandelle Est Allumee" and "Whiskey River Special" (featuring guest Geno Delafose on drums), best reflect this generous album's focus on the infectious toe-teasers that rule at southwest Louisiana dancehalls.