Cajun fiddler Kelli Jones-Savoy kicks up her heels on ebullient debut album
“I never had any classical training,” says Kelli Jones-Savoy, singer, fiddler, and guitarist of Feufollet. For now, the timbre of southern Cajun fiddlin’ twang heard throughout the band’s latest album Two Universes (Rounder), Feufollet’s first album since its 2010 Grammy-nominated En Coulouers, can all be attributed to Jones-Savoy.
Feufollet, which roughly translates to “swamp fire,” is made up of Kelli Jones-Savoy, vocals, fiddle, and acoustic guitar; Chris Stafford, vocals, accordion, acoustic and electric guitar; Andrew Troups, keyboards; Mike Stafford, drums, and Philippe Billeaudeaux, bass.
The 11-track album marks Jones-Savoy first record with Feufollet, and the band’s first since the departure of its former singer Anna Laura Edmiston, who amicably left the group in 2012 to sing in Cavalia: Odysseo, a theatrical circus (“with horses!” Jones-Savoy adds) created by the founders of Cirque de Soleil.
Jones-Savoy’s background is musically eclectic, indeed—her father was an old-time, Appalachian-influenced fiddler, and she inherited a family of Cajun royalty by marriage. She’s married to Louisiana’s Cajun fiddler Joel Savoy, son of guitarist and musicologist Ann and accordion maker Marc Savoy of the Savoy Family Band (Ann also is a longtime musical partner of Cajun fiddle legend Michael Doucet of Beausoleil).
“I started playing old-time music [on the fiddle],” says Jones-Savoy, who started fiddling at age 15. “My dad is an old-time musician, so, I sort of got started in that world. Then when I moved to Lafayette [Louisiana] in 2006, I got interested in Cajun [music].”
How did Jones-Savoy’s multi-talented, fiddling-self find her way in Feufollet?
“I had been friends with people in the band for a while, and had played music with them in other musical endeavors,” she says. “When [Anna Laura Edmiston] left they asked me to fill in for some gigs, and after that they asked me if I wanted to join the band and I said, ‘Sure, sounds great,’” she says with a laugh.
“It wasn’t a hard transition,” she adds. “Once I joined the band we started building a little bit of a different repertoire to make a new album and incorporated some of the songs that I had written.”
The latest album, released on March 24, is the band’s first with songs performed in English, ditching its previous roots of an all-French track list. The reactions have been good, Jones-Savoy says. “We’ve had a lot of compliments on the album,” she says over the phone, stockpiled in a van with her bandmates while on the road in North Carolina, “We’re in the fourth week of the tour that we’re doing and we’ve had a really good response so far.”
Jones-Savoy joined the group in November 2013, and with her arrival brought a new repertoire that her new band members were jonesin’ for.
“Kelli has a different linguistic background than Anna Laura,” Chris Stafford told the American Oxford. “She’s also much more influenced by old-time and country. So when we got Kelli in the band, she brought all these new songs.
“We got her, but we also got her catalog. We needed someone to sing and play, but we really just wanted all your songs,” Stafford joked.
Despite the departure from past albums’ strictly-Cajun catalog, Two Universes still has four songs written and performed in French. Jones-Savoy, not native to the language herself, did study it in school, and continued learning to communicate with her French-speaking friends, husband, and his family.
“I think learning songs in French helps me learn the understanding of it,” she says. “It’s one of the main ways I’ve learned a lot of [the language.]”
Despite Jones-Savoy’s coquettish thoughts on her maneuvering of the French language, she masters the pronunciation with a bewitching melodic grace that would leave any native speaker second-guessing. Songwriting, a skill that Feufollet champions effortlessly with Two Universes, includes the entire band Jones-Savoy notes. “We all have a good amount of input on it,” she says.
“It usually starts with someone bringing something to the table, or an idea,” Jones-Savoy says of the process. “We all have our thoughts about it, our input on it, and that leads to whether we end up doing it or not.”
The five-year waiting game for Two Universes paid off with its carefully crafted collaborative repertoire. And, it never goes without some improv on fiddle, Jones-Savoy adds.