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Pop Reviews : Cajun Cookin’ With Jo-El Sonnier and Friends

Jo-El Sonnier squeezed a mournful tone from his button accordion and slowly recited the opening line of “Jambalaya"--"Good-bye Joe, me gotta go . . . "--reminding the crowd at Club Lingerie on Monday that it’s been two years since he left Los Angeles for Nashville. But then he and his nine-piece band kicked the song into high gear, starting off two hours full of reminders of just how much the L.A. club scene has missed him and his spirited, rocking Cajun shows.

When the unassuming, bearded Sonnier was a regular around town with his variable band of “friends” (among the fold were the likes of the Band’s Garth Hudson and guitarist Albert Lee), it always looked like someone had plunked the neighborhood grocer on stage with some of L.A.'s top rock figures. It was no different Monday when he was surrounded by some of Nashville’s finest, including rising-star guitarists Kenny Greenberg and Steuart Smith.

But though the stage was crowded with talent, Sonnier never seemed crowded out. Showcasing material from his strong upcoming album “Come On Joe,” he was equally effective a player and singer on country-pop (“Baby Hold On”), country ballads (“No More One More Time”) and rock (a one-two punch of Dave Alvin’s “So Long Baby Goodbye” and Richard Thompson’s “Tear-Stained Letter”), as well as traditional Cajun (“Allors a Lafayette”) from an earlier album.

And both through this set and a loose but rollicking jam with some of the old friends (including Hudson, Lee, Alvin and singer Jennifer Warnes) that followed, it was easy to see why the Louisiana native has earned the respect of such high-caliber performers--he’s clearly in this for the love of music.

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One unfortunate note was that the touted Boston-based blues band Treat Her Right was unable to appear as scheduled due to harmonica player Jimmy Fitting being struck and bruised by a motorcycle earlier in the day. (The injury is not expected to effect the band’s scheduled appearances tonight at Raji’s and Saturday at McCabe’s.) On the positive side, though, it meant there was more time for Sonnier and crew.


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