Review: ‘Mouse Music’ captures heart of La. roots _lowres

Photo provided by Argot Pictures -- Mance Lipscomb, left, and Chris Strachwitz

Louisiana music pulses through “This Ain’t No Mouse Music,” the documentary about Chris Strachwitz, founder of the great roots-music label Arhoolie Records.

New Orleans’ Treme Brass Band plays and parades. Cajun musicians Michael and David Doucet, of Beausoleil, appear in an intimate New Orleans courtyard setting. Younger-generation Cajun group the Pine Leaf Boys performs for a room full of dancers on the West Coast.

Some of the film’s best moments consist of vintage footage of zydeco star Clifton Chenier and Texas country bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. They’re a few of the many classic artists Strachwitz helped popularize through Arhoolie Records.

None of these artists play mouse music. Mouse music, as explained in this affectionate, culturally rich but rambling documentary, is easily digested, popular music.

Strachwitz loves unbridled, immediate music, including Norteño and conjunto music from Texas and California, old-time country from the Blue Ridge Mountains and New Orleans jazz.

“I like it when it’s just cooking,” he says.

New Orleans jazz set Strachwitz on the path to founding Arhoolie. Shortly after his refugee royal German family’s immigration to the U.S. in 1947, Strachwitz saw the New Orleans-filmed movie, “New Orleans.” The film features Billie Holiday, Woody Herman and Louis Armstrong. Its New Orleans jazz soundtrack left him in rapture.

“That, to me, was the music of paradise,” he recalls.

“This Ain’t No Mouse Music” co-directors Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling — longtime associates of the late documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Les Blank (“Always for Pleasure,” “Marc & Ann”) — follow Strachwitz from his home in Berkeley, California, to New Orleans to the Savoy family’s annual Boucherie in Eunice to Virginia’s Richmond Folk Festival.

The film captures Strachwitz in the role of a nonacademic folklorist. His tools include a microphone and recording equipment. Even when Strachwitz is, technically, at work, he’s aglow with childlike enthusiasm.

“This Ain’t No Mouse Music” bogs down in repetition and too much talking heads footage, but Cajun musician Marc Savoy expresses his appreciation for Strachwitz better than anyone.

“I don’t know how I could have survived without Chris Strachwitz,” Savoy says. “Because everything that I love, Chris has supported it … and everything that I love, Chris has helped bring out in me.”