Big Chief Monk Boudreaux - "Won't Bow Down"

Keven Brennan Publisher: LIving Blues
Reviewer: Mr. Robert H. Cataliotti
April 2012
[pdf of review]

"In the summer of 1987, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and his Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians recorded a "practice" at the H&R Bar in Uptown New Orleans. The recording was released in the following year as Lightning and Thunder on Rounder Records and, with its traditional call and response chants and polyrhythmic hand percussion, it remains the ultimate touchstone for authenticity in recorded Mardi Gras Indian music. Boudreaux has also played a central role in many of the innovative updates of the music, including a 30-year collaboration with Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias. His vocals, songwriting, and percussion have contributed to projects with Dr. John, Robbie Robertson, Anders Osborne, Tab Benoit, Voices of the Wetlands, the New Orleans Social Club, and the 101 Runners.

On Won't Bow Down, his sixth CD as a leader and second collaboration with Los Angeles-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Keven Brennan, Boudreaux takes the music light years from what he and his "gang" were laying down at the H&R Bar, Funk, blues, reggae, Cajun, gospel, hip-hop, and Native American elements are forged together with Indian grooves and vocals in a swirling, ambient, electronically charged soundscape with the Big Chief at its center holding everything together. Like a West African djali or griot, Boudreaux is a musician, poet, storyteller, historian, preacher, and teacher, and what he imparts on Won't Bow Down is very much the story of his life within the context of a viable tradition of black American artistry aimed at survival, resistance, and transcendence that reaches from the 19th century to present day New Orleans.

The opening track, Monk's Mardi Gras, tells the story of how the tradition was passed down to Boudreaux by his father with a funk underpinning provided by Brennan and the band, Orgone, along with a jazz keyboard riff by Dr. John, which floats through the arrangement like a riverboat calliope across the French Quarter. Slashing blues-rock guitars from Brennan and Papa Mali drive Boudreaux's indictment of the NOPD's longtime, infamous harrassment of parading Indians on Don't Run Me Down. A trio of Brennan on guitar, Dan Schwartz on bass, and super session man Jim Keltner on drums jam on a rocking groove for Boudreaux's spoken word toast to his cooking skills, Footsteps, that articulates his culinary philosopy, "If it got four legs, man / You got to go for it." Don't Take My Flag Down is a neglected, traditional Mardi Gras Indian song that Boudreaux revives with a unique melding of Orgone's reggae groove and Waylon Thibodeaux's Cajun fiddle. Although Indian vocals are often described as "hootin' and a hollerin'," on Mama's Song, Boudreaux croons a poignant ballad in tribute to his recently deceased mother that features a gospel-inspired chorus by singer Jacqueline Hudson. Boudreaux passes the baton to his son Joseph Jr., who delivers a rap interlude on the funk-driven Lightning and Thunder. Other tracks include the atmospheric apolcalypse of The Four Horsemen: the Wild Magnolias-style funk of Gonna Set 'em on Fire: and the smoldering guitar and harmonica blues of Jam with Me. The CD closes with the funk/reggae of Education, on which Bodureaux reflects on the denial of educational opportunity he experienced growing up in New Orleans, defiantly asserting: "Everything I learned I taught myself." This is living testimony that no matter what he encounters, this Big Chief Won't Bow Down.