BECAUSE Cajun music so directly reflects the emotions and experience of its people, its lively dance rhythms and party spirit are balanced by music sadder and more melancholy in character. On Dewey Balfa's new album, "Souvenirs," the famous Cajun fiddler sings and plays songs about the death of his father and brothers with such remarkable poignance that his life and emotions seem inseparable from his art.
While Balfa has been one of traditional Cajun culture's greatest ambassadors for more than 20 years, his repertoire, his flowing fiddle work and plaintive French singing make few concessions to the broader audience. Though "Souvenirs" has a couple of lively fiddle tunes -- "Fiddlesticks" and "The Water Melon Reel" -- it mostly offers ballads and waltzes whose dolefulness is relieved only by their beauty.
On "Souvenirs," Balfa continues his musical partnership with veteran folk fiddler Tracey Schwartz. One of the album's most stirring numbers, "La Valse de Deux Familles," celebrates their friendship as they seamlessly intertwine fiddles on this waltz's lovely melody. The album's tragic air reaches its apogee in "1775," Balfa's evocative tale of the Acadian expulsion from Nova Scotia. In the middle of the song, Balfa lets out a lonesome cry that seems to reach back across time to his ancestors. DEWEY BALFA -- "Souvenirs" (Swallow LP-6056); Balfa appears with Tracey and Peter Schwartz at a dance at the Twist and Shout Club Saturday night. The band has brought along a Cajun dance instructor and cook, and they will offer free lessons and gumbo.