A labor of love and a monument to exhaustive research, Bear Family's 2011 box set Acadian All Star Special: The Pioneering Cajun Recordings of J.D. Miller contains every recording Cajun music producer J.D. Miller cut between 1946 and 1959. This simple description downplays the effort behind this triple-disc box. It took considerable effort to document each of these tracks, and more still for Lyle Ferbrache to assemble the notes, but the end result winds up as a cornerstone of Cajun music.
Miller dove into Cajun music in earnest after Harry Choates' recording of "Jole Blon" turned into a hit, starting to pursue a career as a producer in 1946 with his label Fais Do Do. Miller recorded Cajun and country acts at Cosimo Matasa's studio in New Orleans, eventually gaining some ground from his recordings with Happy Fats and Doc Guidry, commonly considered some of the great Cajun sides of all time. After World War II, there was a distinct lack of Cajun records and Miller set out to fill that gap, entering a golden era that this box ably documents. Here, it's possible to hear Cajun turn modern partially through the records of Lee Sonnier, whose arrangements were more expansive, finding steel guitar and other honky tonk flair fitting the accordion-driven Cajun two-step. Miller's next big star was Jimmy Newman, who veered a little closer to country than Cajun, a direction corrected by Chuck Guillory, who was more purely Cajun than Newman and who nevertheless sang with the fiddler.
Miller continued to find talent that straddled the line from Cajun to country, sometimes discovering singers like Terry Clement who could do both sides of the line, and if he never quite struck gold, what he wound up doing was establishing the sound and sensibility of recorded Cajun music. Certainly, this has been apparent in the decades that followed the music collected here, but no one set has ever rounded up all of his groundbreaking sides as Acadian All Star Special does. There may be a hint of musty academia to its presentation, but given the effort behind this three-disc set, it's only fair that the compilers feel the necessity to show their work. It is impressive and it winds up being one of the essential releases in Cajun and American mid-century roots music.