There are certain places that are inevitably identified with specific sounds and musical styles. Chicago is tied to the blues. Detroit is inevitably identified with Motown, Nashville is the capital of country, Memphis shared soul music and Bakersfield birthed rockabilly and touted its twang.
Louisiana boasts a mystique of its own, one bound by the Mississippi Delta and various musical strains that collided early on. Much of its music arrived with the early settlers who helped infuse various diverse influences that grew out of some decidedly contiguous cultures.
These days, most of the music that’s said to represent the legacy of Louisiana is based in New Orleans, but in truth, it’s only a fraction of the styles that the state has to offer. The Crescent City may be home to jazz and various strains of rhythm and blues, but the outlying environs birthed Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop and dancehall, each a distinct genre with its own history and heritage.
Credit The Revelers, a band based out of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, for sharing a sound that weaves those threads together. With four previous recordings to its credit, the group has made it a mission to find the right balance between the disparate genres while representing them in a way that does justice to their populist precepts. According to sax player and singer Chris Miller — “The Chris Miller,” as he’s referred to by the band — the group’s new album, “At the End of the River,” comes closer than ever before in realizing those ambitions. Both rousing and revealing, it boasts an energy and enthusiasm that’s completely contagious.
“It’s our arrival record,” Miller said, summing up the musicians’ sentiments succinctly. “This is the album we’ve been moving towards for the entire life of the band. Each song was brought in during its early stages, and we all worked them up together. It was a much more cohesive and collaborative process, but we still had to figure out what worked best and what we could still define as The Revelers’ ‘sound.’ What excited me most was that we didn’t feel it had to fit any particular mold.”
Miller joined the band in 2013, three years after the group was formed from the remnants of the Red Stick Ramblers, a group that surveyed a more traditional terrain. Currently consisting of Miller, Blake Miller (no relation, vocals, accordion and fiddle), Daniel Coolik (fiddle, electric guitar, vocals), Glenn Fields (drums, percussion, vocals), Chas Justus (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals), and Trey Boudeaux (bass, vocals), The Revelers have made their mark at festivals and concert halls throughout the U.S., the U.K., Canada and other countries. They received the ultimate affirmation when the group was accorded a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Regional Roots Music, courtesy of the song “Get Ready.”
Nevertheless, to the world at large, The Revelers purvey a very specialized sound.
“When we play our shows, we tend to take people through the history of cajun and creole music up until now,” Miller explained. “We mix our own material in with traditional songs, and we love doing that. We love being the ambassadors of the cultural traditions of Louisiana and to educate people to the fact that it’s not just limited to New Orleans. We try to broaden their expectations of what they’re about to hear. We’re a Cajun band, but it’s a lot more complicated than most people realize. We consider ourselves to be a Louisiana jukebox. You’re definitely going to hear a variety of styles. It has a classic vibe to it.”
Miller said the influences that inspired these various musical strains are divided along racial lines and classic versus contemporary leanings. He noted that most of the sounds that The Revelers draw from lean more towards the early African American side of the divide.
“It’s a touchy thing,” Miller added. “You don’t want to come off like you’re exploiting marginalized cultures. Blake fell in love with that style as a child and grew up surrounded by that music. He didn’t know anything about the racial tensions. Nowadays, the dance halls are much more integrated. Music is music, but culturally, there were definitely barriers. Most of the bands that you hear nowadays fall somewhere in between.”
Miller’s own ambitions have helped him find a fit within The Revelers’ work.
“I loved Cajun and zydeco music growing up in Florida,” he said. “I never thought it would be my musical path. I also loved folk and bluegrass. My dad was a Deadhead. I studied jazz because that’s the route you take when you play saxophone. I loved jazz, but I was always interested in playing a much wider variety of music.”
Ultimately, that intent seems to have served him well.
“I have a lot of influences, but what I love about this band is that I get to improvise and use my background and education to play within the confines of a distinct style. I fell in love with dance music when I started dancing, which was right after college. So first and foremost, we’re a dance band. Our main objective is to make sure it’s danceable, and serving the dancers. That’s one of our strictest rules.”