THE THREE GRAND masters of zydeco -- Boozoo Chavis, John Delafose and Rockin' Dopsie -- rarely leave their native state of Louisiana, but to see them live is to savor one of American music's most special experiences. Chavis, for example, takes the stage in his trademark white cowboy hat, clear plastic apron and red button accordion. He plays a one-bar accordion figure whose catchy melody is inseparable from its tricky syncopation; soon the whole band (featuring two of his sons) is reinforcing both the repeating, hypnotic melody and the rhythm that pushes and pulls one's joints into dancing.
If you don't live in Louisiana, the next best thing to hearing Chavis on a regular basis is listening to his albums. He was one of the first zydeco artists ever to record, and his 1954 single "Paper in My Shoe" has become a swamp standard. Chavis's hard-to-find singles on Goldband Records from the '50s and '60s have finally been collected and reissued as "The Lake Charles Atomic Bomb." Included are both "Paper in My Shoe" and the answer song "Lost the Paper in My Shoe," as well as a dozen more minimalist floor-stompers. This is an invaluable example of how early zydeco sounded, when the dominant influence was still country blues before urban rhythm & blues took over.
Chavis, who turned 60 in October, retired from music for most of the '60s and '70s to raise race horses. He has made a most impressive comeback, however, and his new album, "Zydeco Trail Ride," rivals C. J. Chenier's "Hot Rod" and John Delafose's "Heartaches and Hot Steps" as the year's best zydeco album. Chavis's accordion riffs snag one's attention and won't let go; his band has never sounded so tight, executing the push-and-pull syncopations flawlessly.
Chavis updates "Telephone Won't Ring" from the "Atomic Bomb" album as the more aggressive "Telephone Blues," and he offers the definitive swamp version of "Harlem Shuffle." His recent bilingual single, "Zydeco Mardi Gras," remakes the Balfa Brothers' "La Danse de Mardi Gras" as a lively zydeco two-step; his wittily suggestive "I Want to Play With Your Poodle" has also become a Louisiana dance hall favorite.
BOOZOO CHAVIS -- "The Lake Charles Atomic Bomb" (Rounder) and "Zydeco Trail Ride" (Maison de Soul). Appearing Saturday at the Birchmere.