Julieta Venegas, Mexico’s Accordion Girl

Mexican singer/songwriter Julieta Venegas rose to fame with her unique brand of accordion rock, fueled by an expansive sound and powerful lyrics typically heard only in veteran artists. Lately, she’s been reinventing herself with a brighter pop sound that has widened her audience even more. She just received four Latin Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year for Limon y Sal and Record of the Year for “Me Voy”. This clever video for “Me Voy” also earned a Grammy nod:

(Thanks Ian!)

The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band

Stepping into Nye’s Polonaise in Northeast Minneapolis on a Friday night is like stepping back in time. That’s partly due to the decor (dark, windowless, and untouched in forty years), the employees and regulars (many of whom also haven’t changed in that time), and the presence of Ruth Adams and the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. Every week, the band (led by Ruth on accordion) leads a packed house through standards like “The Barking Dog Polka”, “Too Fat Polka”, and “In Heaven There Is No Beer.”

First-time director Sonya Tormoen has made an endearing short documentary of the group, simply titled The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. Filmed in 2003, it captures the warm relationship between the band members: the septuagenarian founder Ruth, trumpeter Joe Hayden (called “The Kid” despite being in his 60s), and 88-year-old drummer Al Ophus who, despite his troubles keeping a steady beat, charms patrons and boasts of kissing “fifteen girls a night” (Al passed away a few months after filming wrapped).

The documentary is currently making the film festival rounds — including the Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival this weekend — and won the award for Best Documentary Short at the Fargo Film Festival in March. Check out a review in the Beachwood Reporter or watch the trailer below. If you like what you can see and hear (and can’t wait for it to come to your town), you can order a DVD directly from the filmmakers.

Italian Family Festa in San Jose

Why not spend the weekend with the Italian family you never had? The Italian American Heritage Foundation’s 26th annual Italian Family Festa is happening this Friday through Sunday at Santana Row in San Jose, CA. There’ll be ample accordion entertainment, including performances by squeezebox legend Dick Contino, as well as the Silicon Valley Accordion Society. And like any good Italian festival, there’ll be plenty of food, a grape stomping contest, a tarantella dance contest, and a bocce ball court. We’ll be there Saturday, so say ‘hi’ and — assuming our faces aren’t stuffed with cannoli — we’ll give you some Let’s Polka stickers.

Weird Al releases “Straight Outta Lynwood”

Straight Outta LynwoodToday Weird Al released his 12th studio ALbum, Straight Outta Lynwood, featuring parodies of Chamillionaire, Green Day, Usher, R. Kelly and (best of all) Taylor Hicks! The DualDisc also includes six animated videos, a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the album and even karaoke mixes with optional on-screen lyrics. (And, for those who were wondering, there is a 27 on the cover).

My review: 5 stars, baby! Okay, I am biased. Weird Al is one of my favorite musicians ever. I am continually impressed with his breadth of experience spanning multiple genres. Some of my personal favorite songs are “White and Nerdy” (watch the video on Al’s Myspace), “Polkarama!” (any song that starts with “The Chicken Dance” and ends with “Gold Digger” is a favorite in my book) and “Do I Creep You Out” (I love Taylor Hicks but even he might agree that song was asking for it).

I also love the additional videos. Some of my favorite animators worked on them, including John Kricfalusi, Bill Plympton and Robot Chicken. The behind-the-scenes featurette is also really fun. In it, you’ll see Al playing his accordion (a red Hohner 72 bass with 5 treble switches) as well as a toy piano, vibraslap, bass harmonica and a watermelon! That guy has mad skillz.

If you like Weird Al, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with this album. Click here to buy the CD.

Flaco Jimenez vs Spongebob Squarepants

“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” Flaco Jimenez! No, the Tejano accordion legend hasn’t moved next door to Patrick and Squidward, but he does make a guest appearance on Spongebob’s latest album, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Best Day Ever. Put together by Tom Kenny (the voice of Spongebob), the album includes a track called “Barnacles!” that features Flaco jamming with cult rockers NRBQ.

And Bikini Bottom isn’t the only place you’ll find Flaco these days. He’s just released a new full-length album called Fiesta Del Rio. I’ve had a hard time finding any information on it — it isn’t on Amazon or iTunes yet and I’ve yet to see any reviews — but you can order it at tejanoclassics.com or directly from Flaco’s site. Judging from the track below, it sounds like it’s well worth hunting down.

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Duckmandu Does Dead Kennedys

One of the acts we caught last weekend at Smythe’s Accordion Festival was the incomparable Duckmandu, aka Aaron Seeman. Despite recently injuring his rotator cuff (he passed around a handout illustrating the injury), he played an excellent set, including one-of-a-kind solo accordion renditions of “Highway to Hell” (complete with flames shooting out of his Donald Duck hat) and “Rocky Mountain High”.

Duckmandu is probably best known for his album, Fresh Duck for Rotting Accordionists, a solo accordion version of the first Dead Kennedys album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Anyone who’s familiar with the original knows that a note-for-note recreation is no easy feat (especially on accordion), but he manages to pull it off. Original Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride even sings backup on a few tracks. Check out his cover of “California Uber Alles”:

Accordions at the Texas State Fair

In Texas, the State Fair isn’t just a place to gorge yourself on fried Coke (seriously, they’ve elevated fried food to an art form) and ride the Scrambler until your head explodes, it’s also a great place for an accordion history lesson. “The Accordion and its Roots in Tejano Music” will be one of the showcase exhibits at this year’s fair, which starts Friday in Dallas and runs until October 22nd. The exhibit will feature artifacts, photographs, video and performances highlighting the role of the accordion in Tejano music.

The centerpiece of the exhibit will be a display of vintage accordions on loan from private collections, which include 1940s-era Hohners played by Narciso Martinez and Los DonneƱos. There will also be numerous accordion workshops and performances at the fair, including appearances by El Conjunto Bernal, Conjunto Motivo Hermanos Martinez, Barajo de Oro Conjunto, Los Texmaniacs, Joel Guzman, and Mingo Saldivar.

Debra Peters and the Accordion Roundup

The Broken Spoke in Austin, TX, is a legendary honky-tonk country music dance hall, a place where names like Strait, Tubb, and Acuff have all graced the stage, and Willie Nelson still stops in for chicken-fried steak (reportedly the best in town, possibly the state). On the last Tuesday of every month, it’s also home to the Austin Accordion Roundup hosted by Debra Peters.

At each Roundup, a guest accordionist shows up to play a few of their favorite tunes, followed by more accordion music from Debra and her band the Love Saints, who specialize in blues, zydeco, classic country, and Tex-Mex. Debra also teaches accordion lessons in the Austin area, and has recorded a blues accordion basics DVD. So if you’re in Austin this Tuesday, head on down to the Broken Spoke for some accordion music and chicken-fried steak. Mmm…

Talking Polka on alt.music.polkas

There’s a spirited discussion going on over at alt.music.polkas on the current state of polka music. It started with some criticism of recent polka albums and has gone on to cover the role of disc jockeys (online and offline) in promoting polka, what current (often older) fans want to hear, what might draw in a younger generation of polka fans, and more.

It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the future of polka music, particularly what can be done to further its appeal. Personally, I don’t think it matters whether bands are playing originals or the old standards, as long as they’re playing good music and are trying to reach out to new fans (particularly online; how many polka bands have MySpace pages?).

In the meantime, if you’re looking for some new polka music, Nostradamus’ exhaustive page of polka album reviews and Jimmy K. Polkas are both great places to start. Especially if, like me, your local record store’s polka section consists of nothing but Frankie Yankovic and/or Jimmy Sturr CDs.

Garfield, Why Can’t You Be Funny?

Jim asks Liz to polka.  Hilarity ensues.

As a matter of fact, Garfield, polka-karaoke night sounds awesome. I’ll bring the accordion, you bring the Lil’ Wally records. (Thanks, Micah.)

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