25 Songs: Brave Combo

For day #16 on our accordion advent calendar, we have a track from one of my favorite holiday albums, Brave Combo’s It’s Christmas, Man! Brave Combo has been creatively bending genres for more than 25 years, and this album is no different. It’s filled with eclectic, twisted renditions of Christmas classics: a ska version of “The Christmas Song, a samba “O Christmas Tree”, and more. If you’re sick of hearing the same old holiday songs over and over again (sorry Burl Ives), this is your cure.

25 Songs: Astor Piazzolla

So far this month, we’ve focused entirely on the accordion; but today we turn to its expressive cousin, the bandoneon. And you can’t talk about the bandoneon without talking about Astor Piazzolla. Father of the nueva tango, Piazzolla revolutionized classic Argentine tango by incorporating elements of classical music and jazz, harmonies and dissonance, and new instrumentation (e.g. electric guitar, saxophone). This stirring performance of “Hora Cero” comes from the last performance of Piazzolla’s New Tango Sex-Tet.

25 Songs: They Might Be Giants

I couldn’t do the accordion advent calendar without featuring the group that first inspired me to pick up the accordion: They Might Be Giants. For more than 25 years, John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been pumping out clever, quirky pop for adults and children alike. Linnell’s accordion isn’t featured as prominently as it was in the old days, but this bouncy instrumental (released via their online TMBG Clock Radio) is a shows he can still squeeze. It was also the first song on the first mix CD Anna made for me after we started dating.

25 Songs: Zhang Guoping

As we cross the halfway point in our accordion advent calendar, we highlight a track from Chinese classical accordionist Zhang Guoping. Zhang comes from a family of professional accordion players — his father was president of the Chinese Association of Accordionists — and has been trained in the Western classical tradition, becoming a master of the free-bass accordion. Zhang returns to his roots with this song, an old melody calling to mind the sound of the sheng, the accordion’s Chinese predecessor.

25 Songs: John Delafose

Zydeco music is filled with families where the torch (or accordion) has been passed from generation to generation — families like the Ardoins, Broussards, Cheniers, and Delafoses. John Delafose comes from the first tier of zydeco accordionists, along with Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, and others. With his band, the Eunice Playboys, Delafose played strong syncopated rhythms on both button and piano accordion for packed dance floors throughout the Gulf Coast. He passed away in 1994, but his son Geno Delafose is currently one of zydeco’s most popular artists, having garnered one of the first-ever Cajun/Zydeco Grammy nominations last year.

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25 Songs: Golem

Our featured artist for day #11 in our accordion advent calendar is neither an animated being created from clay, nor a character from Lord of the Rings. Led by singer/accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan, Golem is a klezmer/”Eastern European folk-punk band” (their own description) from New York City, and a damn good one at that. Combining Jewish folk music with a punk ethos, their music is rowdy, but reverent — Yiddish lyrics are often belted out in-between snarky English asides. Recommended for fans of Geoff Berner.

25 Songs: Accordion Tribe

Musical supergroups have a spotty track record. For every Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, there’s an XYZ (the failed ex-Led Zeppelin/Yes supergroup). Fortunately, Accordion Tribe has managed to overcome the odds. This collaboration between five of the world’s most innovative contemporary accordionists — Guy Klucevsek (USA), Maria Kalaniemi (Finland), Bratko Bibic (Slovenia), Lars Hollmer (Sweden), and Otto Lechner (Austria) — began in 1996 and has since yielded three excellent albums and several European tours. This track comes from their most recent album, Lunghorn Twist.

25 Songs: Flaco Jimenez

For some, music is in their blood. One in a long line of conjunto legends — including his grandfather (Patricio Jimenez) and father (Santiago Jimenez Sr.) — Flaco Jimenez has become tejano music’s unofficial ambassador to the world, spreading the music and absorbing rock, country, and jazz influences along the way. His list of collaborators is extensive, including Ry Cooder, Dwight Yoakum, Linda Ronstadt, the Rolling Stones, and numerous others; not to mention his stint as part of the Texas Tornados with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Freddie Fender. No matter who he’s playing with, though, his sound is instantly recognizable; this Flaco quote does a nice job of summarizing why:

“The way I learned to play the accordion was on the wild and happy side, much like Cajun and zydeco music. One of my early idols was Clifton Chenier. The way he played, it was like the accordion was yelling at you: hey, take this. I like to make my accordion yell and scream and make it happy.”

25 Songs: Gogol Bordello

Let’s see, so far on our accordion advent calendar we’ve had gypsy jazz and Irish punk… for day #8, how about some gypsy punk? Led by charismatic frontman Eugene Hütz, Gogol Bordello has built a following on the back of its raucous, sweaty live shows and eclectic musical stylings since 1999. The band is a melting pot in and of itself, including the Ukranian Hütz, an Israeli guitarist, an Ethiopian bassist, an American drummer, two percussionist/dancers, and 53-year-old Yuri Lemeshev on accordion.

25 Songs: Frankie Yankovic

This is the one that started it all. Recorded in late 1947, “Just Because” sold over a million copies and catapulted Frankie Yankovic — and polka music — into the national spotlight. Legend has it that Columbia Records didn’t want him to even bother recording the old tune, but Yankovic was so confident in his Cleveland-style rendition that he promised to buy the first 10,000 copies himself. There are two accordions playing here: Yankovic (on piano accordion) and another Cleveland polka legend, Johnny Pecon (on chromatic). Pecon may not be as widely recognized but, in polka circles, he is regarded as one of polka’s greatest accordion players.

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