Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys mix Cajun tradition, zydeco blues and Louisiana swamp-pop for a tasty aural treat. 

A Musical Gumbo

Bandleader Steve Riley is talking about how much he and his Cajun band the Mamou Playboys worked last summer when he puts me on hold briefly to take another call. When he gets back on the line, he explains it was a promoter calling from England wanting the group for yet another gig. "It's always good to get a call like that," he says good-naturedly. "Things are going well."

Things are indeed going well for the 31-year-old accordion and fiddle player. With a tour to Australia in the works and a new CD set to be released in January, Riley's career is prospering because he's not afraid to break musical molds. Local music fans can catch his innovative mix of sounds when Riley and the Playboys play the CreoleArts Zydeco Dance Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Boulevard Deli.

Riley's professional Cajun music career got a jump-start after he studied accordion with Dewey Balfa. Balfa was among the first musicians to take Cajun music out of southwest Louisiana and introduce it to a larger audience. He has been considered one of the foremost players of the style since the '60s. At 15, Riley joined Balfa's band and traveled the country, learning traditional Cajun music from the best. He also learned fiddle during his stint with the band.

By 1988, Riley was playing off-and-on with Balfa and attending Louisiana State University. He met fellow musician David Greely at LSU and the two hit it off. They decided to form a Cajun band with tradition in mind. "We wanted to find these old songs people had kind of forgotten about and revive 'em and play 'em in, our own style," he says.

The band quickly landed a record contract, and thanks to the contacts Riley had made during his Balfa years, they had little trouble getting work. The band remained true to its Cajun bloodlines until 1995 when zydeco blues and Louisiana swamp-pop rock seeped into the sound. Did the band catch flack from their audience for its musical growth?

"Yeah, right at first," Riley says after a long pause. "That's just part of the game. But I think at the same time we pissed off people our audience expanded. We might have lost some of the old guys but gained some young guys."

The Playboys' most recent release, 1998's "Bayou Ruler," mixes French lyrics and fiddles with rock rhythms, saxophones and plenty of guitar. The original songs borrow from a stylistic gumbo to create an upbeat tempo for those who find rootsy Cajun music too droning, yet they retain a proper respect for tradition. Riley says the new CD, "Happy Town," is more "mellow and dark" and less rockin' but he's confident it'll find an audience. "If they can handle that last record, they can handle this," he says.

With Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys in the house there's sure to be plenty of high-energy Louisiana music and a good-time party. Riley explains that shows build as the band works its way through the grooves. "I'm young, man…It gets more powerful as it

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