Freak Out, Polka Style

Polka Freak OutTake one accordion virtuoso from Pennsylvania, son of a polka legend, with a diverse background in jazz, pop, and folk. Take one bass player from Texas, formerly of Brave Combo, known for rocking Tex-Mex and cumbias with Los Super Vatos. Put them together and what do you get? Polka Freak Out!

Polka Freak Out is a collaboration between Alex Meixner and Bubba Hernandez that combines polka styles from around the world (Slovenian, Austrian, Polish, you name it) with conjunto/tejano rhythms and rock and roll energy and enthusiasm. It started with a casual jam session a few years ago, while Hernandez was passing through Alex’s area during a Brave Combo tour. Now they’ve released their first self-titled album, which includes guest appearances by bajo sexto legend Max Baca and Texas Tornado keyboardist Augie Meyers.

The duo will be out on the road later this month, with shows in New York, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago. Check our calendar for details.

eBay Find: Accordion Home Study Course

Vintage Accordion Home LessonsCan’t find an accordion teacher in your area? Don’t have time for formal lessons? The U.S. School of Music had a solution: an accordion home study course available via mail order. This particular set — copyright 1930, but mailed in 1942 — contains four lesson books (“Home Study Lessons for Piano and Chromatic Accordion”), as well as twelve records to accompany the lessons. I’m tempted to bid just so I can get a closer look at the study materials. Plus, I’ve always wanted to take a correspondence course… in accordion.

Quick Links: November 5, 2007

  • Accordion to Jazz
    All About Jazz reviews four distinctive new albums that feature the accordion. Artists include the Ludovic Beier Quartet, Klaus Paier & Gerald Preinfalk, Jurek Lamorski Quartet, and Michael Thieke Unununium.
  • Frode Haltli Quartet on U.S. Tour
    Norwegian accordionist and composer Frode Haltli brings his quartet to America for a brief four-city tour (Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia). An incredible improviser, Haltli takes traditional folk and transforms it into airy chamber music and jazz.
  • Hot Club of Detroit
    Django, by way of Detroit. This sizzling group plays traditional jazz of the ’20s and ’30s with a European gypsy twist. Led by guitarist Evan Perri, the group features Julian Labro on accordion.

This Week in Accordion: NE Accordion Festival

It’s a busy week on the accordion calendar; some highlights:

  • NE Accordion Festival (Fri-Sun in Minneapolis, MN)
    Minnesota’s finest celebration of the accordion family includes concerts, a jazz symposium, workshops, jams, dances, and even a Midwestern potluck.
  • Florida Accordion Association Smash (Fri-Sun in Orlando, FL)
    The Florida Accordion Association’s 7th annual Smash includes performances by Lidia Kaminska, Tony Lovello, and Mary Tokarski. There will also be a “Beer Barrel Polkathon” on Saturday.
  • Stas Venglevski (Saturday in Sheboygan, WI)
    Bayan virtuoso Stas Venglevski performs with the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra in a program that includes works by Grieg, Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Brahms.

Have an accordion event to share? Let us know!

Art of Accordion: Akkordeon-Rap

I’m hoping one of our German-speaking readers can help me out on this one. It’s a video interview with Art of Accordion, a German quintet who won the International Competition for Ensemble Music at the Coupe Mondiale earlier this year. The interview is interspersed with clips of the group slapping their accordions rhythmically while singing/rapping. I’m curious to know what they’re singing about and where they came up with this style.

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Polkas for Charity

Polka doesn’t always have to be about the beer — it can be about a good cause, too. That’s the case with Polkas for Charity, a polka supergroup formed by Ted Borzymowski to record an album and raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. The album, Let’s Get This Party Started!, features an all-star lineup with vocals from Lenny Gomulka, Wally Dombrowski, Johnny Karas, and many more. In the 100 days since the album’s release, they’ve raised more than $10,000 for St. Jude’s. Polka power at its best!

Flickr Find: Webley-o-Lantern

Jason Webley jack-o-lanternJack-o-Lantern, originally uploaded by RJL20

There’s still an hour of Halloween left, which is plenty of time to share this photo of a beautifully spooky jack-o-lantern based on a Jason Webley t-shirt design. Jason has a new album out, The Cost of Living, which is his first solo album in three years. He’s backed by his excellent touring band and the result is more rock ‘n’ roll than his previous stuff. If you missed it, be sure to check out our recent interview with Jason, conducted before the Monsters of Accordion tour.

Squeeze Play at Red Sox Parade

Jonathan Papelbon dances with Dropkick Murphys

Some of you already know that Anna and I are huge Red Sox fans; we even flew out to Boston for the World Series parade when the Sox won in 2004. We didn’t make the trip this year, but I almost wish we had after seeing these photos of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon dancing a jig with Boston’s own accordion-toting Dropkick Murphys during today’s celebration. The Dropkick Murphys have become the unofficial house band of the Red Sox lately, re-recording the 100-year-old bleacher anthem “Tessie” in 2004 and performing on the field before Game 7 of the ALCS two weeks ago.

This Week in Accordion: Blackpot Festival

After spending the weekend adding a bunch of new events, it’s time to check what’s happening on our accordion calendar this week:

  • Blackpot Festival and Cookoff (Fri-Sat in Lafayette, LA)
    A blackpot cookoff, an accordion contest, and nonstop Cajun/Zydeco music highlight this Acadiana festival. Lots of hot young bands on tap, including Pine Leaf Boys, Red Stick Ramblers, Lafayette Rhythm Devils, and more.
  • Wurstfest (Fri-next Sun in New Braunfels, TX)
    What could be better than a ten-day salute to sausage? This tribute to German culture (Texas style) features numerous German bands, as well as performances by Jimmy Sturr and Brave Combo.
  • Fall Polka Festival (Fri-Sun in Champion, PA)
    The Seven Springs Resort hosts eleven top polka bands in a weekend festival. Performers include Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones, Polka Family, Phocus, and more.

Have an accordion event to share? Let us know and we’ll add it to the calendar.

Those Darn Accordions: Squeeze Machine

Those Darn Accordions: Squeeze MachineWhat started as a lark — an accordion gang raiding San Francisco restaurants to play “Lady of Spain” — has turned into a very productive career for Those Darn Accordions. Their latest album, Squeeze Machine, continues the tradition of accordion rock and oddball humor that has made the band “America’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll accordion band” for more than 15 years.

The band has clearly evolved since the early days when they’d cram eight accordions on stage. Their older records leaned heavily on squeezebox-specific kitsch: songs about Lawrence Welk and all-accordion renditions of rock classics (often with octogenarian Clyde Forsman on vocals). But while the old TDA was an accordion band that played rock songs, the modern-day TDA is really a rock band that just happens to sport a few accordions. They’ve pared down the accordion lineup to four, turned the focus from covers to originals, and tightened up their sound.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: they’re still having a hell of a lot of fun. Lead singer/songwriter Paul Rogers populates the album with a cast of colorful characters, ranging from a disgruntled member of a Beatles tribute band (“This Song”), to a squabbling bicycling couple (“Tandem Bike”), and a Willy Loman-esque traveling salesman (“Wrinkle Suit”). Cleveland native (and new “Price is Right” host) Drew Carey even shows up to help renovate a house on “Glass of Beer Polka.”

Meanwhile, the band doesn’t stick to any one genre for long, trading rock ‘n’ roll for country hoedowns (“Heads and Horns”) and swing (“Cocktails in Tehran”) when the mood strikes. On some tracks, heavy wah-wah-like effects make you wonder if you’re actually listening to accordions at all. (You are.) And, of course, there are still a couple covers — AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and “It’s Now or Never” both get the TDA treatment. (Longtime fans may remember that a version of the latter appeared on the band’s first album, Vongole Fisarmonica, too.)

Squeeze Machine does an excellent job showcasing TDA‘s strengths: catchy, offbeat, high-energy, accordion-driven tunes. It’s tough to keep things fresh after 15 years, but Those Darn Accordions are clearly up to the challenge.

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