With Super Tuesday behind us, it’s time to focus on a contest that really matters: the Grammy award for Best Polka Album, to be handed out this Sunday in Los Angeles. This year’s nominees include some polka freaks from Texas, a pair of Canadian polka greats, and a 16-time winner who shows no signs of slowing down. Let’s take a closer look at the nominees:
Brave Combo, Polka’s Revenge
Eclectic polka-rockers Brave Combo are no strangers to the Grammy scene, having won in 1999 for their album Polkasonic and in 2005 for their album Let’s Kiss. For more than twenty five years, they’ve relentlessly busted genres and boldly taken polkas where they’ve never gone before. On Polka’s Revenge, the band fuses rock and Tex-Mex-inspired polkas with old-world waltzes, schottisches, and obereks. Originals like “The Denton Polka” mingle freely with updated renditions of classics by the Connecticut Twins and Ampol Aires.
Brave Combo: The Denton Polka (MP3 download)
John Gora & Gorale, Bulletproof Polkas
Born in Poland, now living in Ontario, Canada, saxophonist John Gora and his band earned their fourth Grammy nomination this year. The repertoire on Bulletproof Polkas runs the gamut from traditional polkas sung in Polish to polka-fied covers of rock songs. In the latter category, Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” survives the transition well, but the same cannot be said for John Lennon’s “Woman.”
John Gora & Gorale: Karma Chameleon (MP3 download)
Bubba Hernandez and Alex Meixner, Polka Freak Out
When Bubba Hernandez (former bassist for Brave Combo) first heard accordionist Alex Meixner, he asked himself, “What would this guy sound like on a Tex-Mex tuned accordion with some Tejano players?” The result is Polka Freak Out, an unlikely collaboration that places Alex’s technical mastery of the accordion over a Tex-Mex rhythm section, with dollops of Tejano, pop, and rock thrown in for good measure. Think Brave Combo, but with more accordion (and a heck of an accordion player at that).
Bubba Hernandez and Alex Meixner: A Heart’s Grand Opening (MP3 download)
Walter Ostanek and Brian Sklar, Dueling Polkas
“Canada’s Polka King” Walter Ostanek matches up with Saskatchewan fiddler Brian Sklar and his band, the Western Senators, for an old-fashioned double album. It’s an apt pairing: Sklar is a Canadian country music legend and Ostanek has been bringing country and western stylings to Cleveland-style polkas for years. The two styles merge effortlessly on Dueling Polkas and, fifty years after starting his first band, Ostanek is still one of polka’s greatest accordionists.
Walter Ostanek and His Band: Iron Mike’s Polka (MP3 download)
Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra, Come Share the Wine
Having won 16 out of the 22 awards given for Best Polka Album, Jimmy Sturr has earned his share of both respect and enmity from his polka colleagues. But few can deny that he’s one of polka’s hardest-working promoters, cranking out an album a year and following a relentless tour schedule that ranges from the Bayway Polish Home to Farm-Aid. Come Share the Wine may lack the star power of his most recent releases (no Willie Nelson cameo this time), but that’s actually a good thing; this time, the focus rests squarely on his top-notch band.
Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra: Red Wing (MP3 download)
It’s a diverse set of contenders for the polka field and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will bring home the Grammy. Will Jimmy Sturr add another trophy to his collection? Will the Texas polka mafia power either Brave Combo or Polka Freak Out to victory? Or will one of Canada’s polka heroes swoop in from the Great White North? We’ll find out on Sunday!