ERNEST JAMES ZYDECO: Press and Reviews

Living Blues Magazine (Mississippi), May 2016

By Robert H. Cataliotti

“Kansas City is renowned as a source point for the swinging, Southwest blues-inflected jazz of the 1920s and 1930s territory bands associated with such American musical icons as Bennie Moten, Jay McShann, Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. It does not usually bring to mind the zydeco dancehalls of southwest Louisiana. So, it is quite a surprise to hear the no-holds-barred, rocking zydeco on Automatic Harvester, the fourth CD by the Kansas City-based Ernest James Zydeco.

Ernest James, who sings lead and plays accordion, guitar and keyboards, provides the link to Acadiana. Like many other Creoles and Cajuns in the 1950s and 1960s, James’ father immigrated from Louisiana (Pineville) to the San Francisco Bay Area. A soulful singer, James, who later relocated to Kansas City, has assembled a tight, hard-driving band that surely propels people onto the dance floor, weather the band is working on its home turf or visiting Cajun Country. Drummer and vocalist Jaisson C. Taylor, a veteran who has worked with the likes of Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor and Bill Withers, lays down the foundation for the grooves. Washboard and triangle player Barry Barnes and bassist Mike Stover provide the right rhythmic spice, and guitarist Tony LaCroix injects a searing blues sensibility into the mix.

Zydeco is all about unrelenting groove, and these guys deliver the goods on tracks like Automatic, Keeps Me Rolling, Whoa Bye and the epic (7:13) Foolish Fool. Faithful to the genre, they also serve up two-steps like Knock Me Over With a Feather, which features Taylor on vocals and the sizzling fiddle work of guest Betse Ellis, and waltzes like Tough Times Waltz, which features James’ double-tracked accordion and Dobro. They slow things down and deliver some soulful vocal harmonies and tasty guitar/accordion/fiddle interplay on Eh Catin. They also branch out with the easy flowing, back-porch country ballad Jack Ride, Jimmy Roll. Taylor handles the vocals and infectious second line drumming on the horn driven, accordion-flavored YJ’s. They may be living on the Great Plains, but with Automatic Harvester, Ernest James Zydeco takes listeners on an exuberant sonic journey back to the land where, as Clifton Chenier declared, “the crawfish got soul!”

Downbeat Magazine (US), February 2016

By Frank-John Hadley

**** (4 out of 5 stars)

“Ernest James, a singer and dazzler on accordion, keyboards and guitars, leads one of the few Creole r&b style bands outside the Bayou State. Beyond the zydeco good times, James delivers blues of suitable purpose and intensity, notably the harrowing “Jack Ride, Jimmy Roll,” which tells of a murderer on the run in the antebellum South”

KC Blues Society (KC,MO) -September 2015

By LaDonna Longberger Sanders

***** (5 out of 5 stars)
“From the first note to the last, this CD of originals pumps out energy, talent, and heart and soul. Yeah, Ernest plays zydeco, but he is so much more than that.  The title track Automatic is so catchy that it has been my earworm for several weeks now.  And the other tunes do it too.  It’s as much about the arrangement as the tune and lyrics. 
Ernest and drummer Jaisson Taylor wrote all songs and collaborated on the arrangements.  They keep it simple and develop individual elements to paint a bigger picture, if you will.  The little touches—the way the first tune ends on an unexpected sliding note, the change in verse after the break, harmony in certain places, call-and-response in others—unimaginative composers/arrangers don’t take time to devise those things.  But they are the things that add depth, excitement and sparkle. And they appear in this album time after time, song after song.  
All the band members make their valuable contributions; even, as the liner note mentions, the crowd at YJ’s Snack Bar provided “shouts and fists”.  And the tune titled “YJ’s” is straight outta Mardi Gras.  Some of the other tunes have a ska feel, while the tune “Bulldog”, dedicated to Kansas City baseball player Salvador Perez, has a hill country sound.  A couple of ¾ time waltzes are included, with the delightful pleading emotionalism of the Cajun genre. Delightful and ebullient, this album is.
11 tracks, 49 minutes ♪♪♪♪♪

OffBEAT Magazine (NOLA)– April 2016

By Dan Willging

“On the chaotic opening seconds of “Automatic”—Automatic Harvester’s standout leadoff track—it sounds as if Ernest James Zydeco (EJZ) is trying to summon up the ghost of Clifton Chenier. But when the Kansas City quintet quickly launches into its own smack-down, infectious groove with Tony LaCroix’s scraping guitar rhythms, it becomes apparent that EJZ would rather do things its way than be a note-for-note copycat stylist. Since James plays the piano note accordion, the same variety Chenier did, it’s only natural that some first generation-type riffs are reminiscent of the King of Zydeco.

But EJZ knows it’d be impossible to be a Chenier knockoff—hence the cultivation of its own personality on this all-original affair. “Cry Baby” features bursting island beats, squelchy reggae keys, Sacred Steel-ish notes and gospel harmonies. “Eh Catin,” a traditional waltz, finds the group sinking its teeth into the first syllable “Eh-h-h-h-h” and then chomping off “Catin” for a resounding affect. “Bulldog” deviates from the accordion-centric fare; it’s a slide guitar–driven, banjo-propelled blues rocker with funky fat bottom end. “Yj’s,” a raucous live cut, blends zydeco, Meters riffs, blaring horns and a struttin’ second line that’s Mardi Gras worthy anywhere in the world.

Compared to its previous effort, 3 Steps From La La, EJZ has made strides in songwriting and vocals, not to mention a tighter band chemistry. Only now does it seem like EJZ has found its niche between the “Paris of the Plains” and the southwest prairies of Louisiana.”

Juke Joint Junkie (Ponchatoula, Louisiana) – September 2015

By Patty McGehee

The disc came in the mail and I popping into the CD deck on the way down the highway to LaPlace, La. I like to take in a new CD in one fell swoop. I listen to it three times in a row, just long enough to feel the power of the drums, the rhythm of the riffs, and the element of a soulful vibrato Ernest has brought into his vocals.

One of the first things I notice right away is that Ernest James Zydeco is slowly losing that hint of California undertone and slipping into pure Zydeco (Except for the cut named "Bulldog.") And there is a tinge more Cajun influence slipping in. I think my favorite cut is "Bulldog," a rhythmic ditty rife with dobro, a funky groove, and a kick ass electric guitar riff that has a Hendrix-like tinge to it. Following slap dab behind it is the purist Cajun sounds on the CD, and possibly is one of my favorite Ernest James Zydeco  cuts of all time. "Eh Catin" is a two-step featuring the above said vibrato in Ernest's voice that is so captivating.

But what knocks me out about this band is the GENIUS psychic connection to NOLA Mardi Gras Indian Chant music found on a song named "YJ's" a song about drinking beer on Mardi Gras morning. As far as I know, this is ground breaking! Ernest James has taken the Brass Band sound, Mardi Gras Chant music and merged it with ZYDECO!!!

Ernest and I have had several discourses about the emergence of the Mardi Gras scene found in Kansas City, Missouri, where, get this, this band hails from. You can connect up with Ernest at his website:
Broaden your musical horizons and take the time to check it out. You will be glad you did.”

No Depression Magazine (US)- August 2015

By Grant Britt

“You can smell what Ernest James is cooking by looking at his menu. Covered in gumbo and jambalaya stains, it reeks of crayfish and catfish, red beans and rice and andouille sausage. And even though the cuisine is served up southwest Louisiana style, neither the server or the venue are anywhere close to Cajun or Creole boundaries. Ernest James Zydeco emanates from beef country, deep in the heart of Kansas City.

But you won't find any sweet sauced bar-b-que offered up here. Some of James' fare is based on K.C. adventures, but done in a style that's straight out of the Louisiana bayous. James' dad has Louisiana roots, but Ernest developed his skills and love for the music when the family moved to Oakland, an oasis for displaced Cajuns and Creoles looking for a better life. They bought their music with them, and James has brought those memories of that sound and his take on the music along to K.C.

James comes out rocking hard on “Automatic,” hot boxing the accordion like C.J. Chenier, tossing in a snippet of Bobby Blue Bland's “Turn On Your Lovelight” at the end just like C.J.'s dad Clifton might have done, mixing up rocking blues, Creole style, with his zydeco.

Although it has a Mardi Gras vibe, the setting for ”Knock Me Over With a Feather” is Kansas City, not Louisiana. But that doesn't stop the rollicking two step from feeling like a reel through the streets of N'awleans for the town's biggest party day.

The fact that James' band has Zydeco in its name doesn't stop them from stomping around in a mess of other genres as well. “Cry Baby” has a Cajun country feel with some weepy pedal steel sobbing softly in the background, and the John Lee Hooker-ish “Bulldog” boogies relentlessly.

James goes deep in Cajun territory for “Eh Catin” (Oh Sweetheart), pumping out an energetic fiddle fueled waltz that would be right at home in Mulate's, the Cajun dance and food paradise formerly of Lafayette, now transplanted to New Orleans. The irony is that the scene James is singing about here is in Kansas City, but you'd never know unless you listened closely.

James fools you again on “YJ's." The brassy strut makes you believe the band was second lining thru the streets of the Big Easy instead of having a throw-down at a local KC snack bar.

James has taken the direction he was headed towards in his last release, 2013's Three Steps From La La, and amped it up, throwing out throbbing tentacles in all directions to snatch up goodies from all over. It’s a grab you'll be glad to latch on to.”

Blues News, The Blues Society of Tulsa - March 2016

By Bill Martin

"Ernest James Zydeco is living proof you don't have to be from the Louisiana Bayou country to play sizzling good zydeco. Straight out of Kansas City, this quintet mixes Creole and Cajun southern influences with R&B, rock, country and zydeco into a melting pot of back porch dirt music featuring everything from accordion, guitars, dobro, keys, washboard and drums, among other instruments.

This is EJZ's fourth release for Jam Rat Records, with a previous release, 3 Steps from LaLa receiving Grammy consideration. Led by its namesake, EJZ has toured extensively and headlined a Cajun and zydeco festival in the Netherlands. Excellent band and music.”

Rudolf’s Music (Holland) – October 2015

By Rudolf van der Ree

“The album 'Automatic Harvester ' buzzes from the first note with energy and talent. Ernest James and his band made an album with eleven songs. The atmosphere of the album is warm, we hear Ernest James rocking blues mix with Creole music known as Zydeco.

But we also hear RnB, Funk and Rock and Roll.

The results are great, the music swings with a rhythm that lets the sun shine for the listener. Ernest James plays on the album accordian, guitar, dobro and keyboards. He also leads the vocals. The band consists of Barry Barnes on the rub board, Jaisson Taylor drums and percussion and vocals, Mike Stover on bass and banjo, and Tony Lacroix on guitar and vocals. My favorite tracks on this swinging album are 'Automatic ', ' Bulldog ' and YJ 's . What a wonderful album!”