In order to truly understand Cajun music, it's best to start with the trailblazers of the genre; those artists from whom all modern Cajun bands descend and draw large amounts of repertoire. Familiarizing yourself with these artists will get you well on your way to really "getting" the genre.
The Balfa Brothers were one of the first bands to bring Cajun music outside of Louisiana, playing at such notable festivals as The Newport Folk Festival and The San Diego Folk Festival. This album is actually a compilation of two LPs that the Balfas had recorded.
Nathan Abshire was a pioneering accordion
player from Mamou, Louisiana who played frequently with the Balfa Brothers. He's perhaps best known for his gritty (and lyrically hilarious) blues tune Pine Grove Blues
. His wailing singing style epitomizes the "Cajun Sound".
Iry Lejeune is credited with creating much of the traditional Cajun repertoire, as it is known today, despite the fact that he died at age 28. Songs like "J'été au Bal" and "Grand Bosco" are credited to him. Lejeune was legally blind, which was a blessing in disguise: had he been able to see, he would've certainly been a full-time farmer and had very little time to create music.
Harry Choates came from the "stringband" era of Cajun music, when accordions became unpopular and Texas swing influences were bearing heavily on the genre. Choates added a swing touch to several Cajun tunes (most notably "Jolie Blon'") and a Cajun touch to several swing tunes to create a style all his own.
Aldus Roger is an accordion master who nearly every modern Cajun accordion player cites as a reference. His playing is clean, beautifully accented and soulful. This album is a particularly good repertoire album, containing many Cajun "hits", including "Johnny Can't Dance", "Zydeco Sont Pas Salés", "Flames d'Enfer" and more.
Dennis McGee is a legend among fiddle players of all genres of music. This album, which was recorded with fiddler Sady Courville, is a great representation of the traditional Cajun twin-fiddle style... no accordion. The waltzes here are a highlight, they are surprisingly elegant and refined.
The Hackberry Ramblers are a legendary band, as of last year, they had set the world record for the band that had been playing together the longest; they'd been together for somewhere around 70 years. Their music is heavily influenced by both Western Swing and early Rock and Roll, and they have a fun, rollicking sound. This album is a recording of their earliest works.
D.L. Menard is a Cajun guitar player who is best known for his songwriting, having penned the Cajun hit "The Back Door". His music takes a lot of cues from Honky-Tonk, and when listening to it, images of crowded country dancehalls will float through your mind.
Octa Clark and Hector Duhon weren't ever as well-known outside of Louisiana as some of their contemporaries, but their straight-ahead style rocked the dance floor at the famous Breaux Bridge restaurant Mulate's for a great many Friday nights. They were a huge favorite among local dancers and local musicians alike.
This album is a collection of field recordings from in and around Mamou, Louisiana around the middle of the last century. The songs are primarily old ballads, some of which can be traced back to Canada and France. Particularly beautiful are "Aux Natchitoches" and "Le Betaille Dans Le 'Tit Arbre". Check out the early version of "La Danse de Mardi Gras", as well. Note that while many field recordings are scratchy and tough to listen to, this album is actually quite clean and listenable.