The lights burn low. A haze of smoke lies in the air. The jukebox spins up with a crackle. The rich vocals of George Jones rattle out of the cabinet. An older couple pull into each other’s arms and start a slow shuffle around the edges of the dancefloor. It’s a common scene in the juke joints of Southwestern Louisiana, in the dancehalls where young Cajun musician Courtney Granger grew up. “Some people learned to sing in the church,” he says, “but I learned to sing in bars.” While his family set up to play the dance, young Granger was singing along with all the old country records in the jukebox. Strangely, this is a side of Granger that few of his fans know. One of the most revered young Cajun performers, Courtney Grangergrew up deep in the Cajun tradition, the grandnephew of the famed Balfa Brothers, and a part of the late-term revival band Balfa Toujours. He’s heir to the haunting high-lonesome vocal style of Cajun singers, now nearly lost. Granger tours the world as part of the Pine Leaf Boys, and he’s been nominated for three Grammys. But he started singing George Jones before he got to any of the Cajun standards. He owes his earliest interest in music to those dark, smoky dancehalls around Eunice and Lafayette, and now with his newest album, Beneath Still Waters, out October 14, 2016 on renowned SW Louisiana record label Valcour Records, he’s paying homage to these Americana roots. Surrounded by a coterie of the best Cajun and Southern old-time musicians, he’s going back to the 1950s when Louisiana was a swirling hotbed of country and Cajun music, the kind of scene that gave us Hank Williams.
Recorded in a small one-room studio in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Dirk Powell– Granger’s old bandmate from Balfa Toujours and one of the best American roots musicians in the nation–engineered and co-produced Beneath Still Waters. Fresh off his tour with Joan Baez, Powell pushed Granger to stay true to his own vision of country. Granger’s friends came out of the woodwork to be part of this album, everyone from folk legends Alice Gerrard and Laurie Lewis to Cajun fiddler Joel Savoy (The Savoy Family Band), pedal steel player Kevin Barry (Paula Cole, Lucy Kaplansky), pianist Glenn Patscha (Olabelle), drummer Christian Dugas (The Duhks), Cajun singer Christine Balfa, and more. But it’s Granger’s voice that does the heavy lifting here. There’s a weight to his vocals. And while it’s surprising to hear this kind of power come out of his small, almost fragile body, it’s the same kind of power you can hear in the best country singers. It’s tied to the land, it’s tied to the accent, and it’s tied to the kind of people who gravitate to late night dances at the local honky-tonk. With Beneath Still Waters, Granger’s put together his love letter to the authenticity of American country music, specifically the late 1950s through the 70s. It’s a mid-century modern vision of country that’s gaining traction today, and highlighting favorite singers like George Jones, Keith Whitely, Vern Gosdin, Waylon Jennings, and Mel Street, all of whom have songs on this album.
There’s a hint of nostalgia in this album, a kind of throwback love, but the truth is that Cajun and country music have always been intertwined. They both speak of heartache, lost love, the power of the bottle over our wills. And while many young players are treading this old ground today, only Granger has the full weight of tradition behind his music. Beneath Still Waters is a powerful album from a new voice in Americana. Nobody else sounds like Courtney Granger.