MP3 Monday: Bette & Wallet

Bette & WalletBette & Wallet is the Canadian duo of Mary Beth Carty (accordion) and Gabriel Ouellette (fiddle, guitar). Hopping seamlessly between English and French, Bette & Wallet mix their Nova Scotian and Québécois roots with klezmer, Cajun, Irish, and blues to create a colorful musical patchwork you can dance to. Mary Beth uses the term ‘musique recyclée’ to describe their music — the art of combining traditional melodies with contemporary folklore — and its an apt description for their vibrant, authentic brand of folk. The duo has already earned Canadian Folk Music Award nominations and invitations to festivals in France and Canada.

MP3 Monday: Bowerbirds

BowerbirdsYou would expect a band living and writing music off the grid in an Airstream trailer in the woods outside of Raleigh, NC, to play some lo-fi acoustic folk. But that’s just a tiny part of what Bowerbirds are all about. The duo of Phil Moore (guitar) and Beth Tacular (accordion) won over critics with their beautiful 2007 debut, Hymns for a Dark Horse and have just released their follow-up, Upper Air. Sparse, subtle arrangements incorporating violin, percussion, and more set the stage for beguiling harmonies and unabashedly pastoral lyrics. Currently touring the US, you can find most of their upcoming shows on our accordion events calendar.

MP3 Monday: Bellowhead

BellowheadIn 2004, English folk duo Spiers and Boden set out to gather a collection of musicians well-versed in many styles — big band, soul, jazz, classical — but who would still play traditional English dance tunes and songs. The result was Bellowhead, an 11-piece English-folk-meets-brass-band ensemble that has racked up an impressive collection of awards and rave reviews in its first five years. Their live performances in particular — which are designed to get the entire crowd up and dancing — have earned them a reputation as one of Britain’s best live acts, regardless of genre. Trombone, saxophone and trumpet slug it out with melodeon (button accordion), fiddle, and bouzouki in a bold, high-energy mix that often sounds more like New Orleans than London. The track below comes from their first album, Burlesque, and features the accordion playing of band founder John Spiers.

MP3 Monday: Wendy McNeill

We have our Canadian friends at Accordion Noir to thank for turning us on to today’s artist — Edmonton-born singer/accordionist Wendy McNeill. Now based in Sweden, McNeill blends intimate, narrative folk with dreamy, melancholy cabaret. Her latest album, A Dreamer’s Guide to Hardcore Living, keeps her accordion and voice at the center, but adds swelling, orchestral arrangements to the mix. Above all, though, McNeill is a natural storyteller, sharing strange and expressive tales of faith, temptation, shape-shifting coyotes, and more. Take a listen and I think you’ll see why she’s rapidly becoming one of our favorite accordion-toting artists.

And as an added bonus, here’s the clever video for Wendy’s “Ask Me No Questions”, shot in one continuous take:

I also highly recommend a pair of videos filmed by Pocket Music during Wendy’s trip to São Paolo, Brazil. The one where she strolls through the open-air market while people stop and dance along to her music is fantastic.

MP3 Monday: A Hawk and a Hacksaw

A Hawk and a Hacksaw: DelivranceAll too often, a musician will immerse themselves in a culture only to create work that’s a pale imitation of what inspired them in the first place. Not so for Albuquerque duo A Hawk and a Hacksaw — accordionist Jeremy Barnes and violinist Heather Trost — whose adventures in Eastern Europe have continued to produce inspired, passionate music that defies easy categorization. In 2007, the duo moved to Budapest to eat, breathe, and play with local musicians; the result is their new album, and most vibrant work to date, Délivrance. It’s a high-spirited stew where the mariachi and American folk of the duo’s homeland melds with the sounds of Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Greece, and more. The album’s opener, “Foni Tu Argile”, is a barn-burner in any language.

As an added bonus — let’s call it “MP3/Video Monday” — here’s a beautiful video for the song “The Man Who Sold His Beard” off Délivrance:

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

MP3 Monday: Polkastra

PolkastraWhen a band is named Polkastra and their album is called Polkalypse Now, you know it’s going to be fun. But don’t let song titles like “Ludwig van Polka” or “Four String Polkanini” fool you; there’s some very serious musicianship behind Polkastra’s silliness.

Led by renowned violin virtuoso Lara St. John, this eclectic septet includes Israeli composer Ronn Yedidia on accordion as well as the New York Metropolitan Opera’s contrabassoonist. They set out to make a polka record just for fun, but soon found themselves exploring polka’s ties with folk, jazz, and classical music. It’s too bad that the polka Grammy is no more because Polkalypse Now is a blast — a joyous, energetic of celebration of polka in its many forms — and already one of my favorite albums of the year (polka or otherwise). You can find the digital album on iTunes now, while the physical CD will be released in August.

MP3 Monday: Vagabond Opera

Vagabond Opera: The Zeitgeist Beckons European cabaret, Balkan belly-dance, neo-Classical opera… it’s all in a day’s work for the Portland, Oregon-based six-piece, Vagabond Opera. Mixing Eastern European folk with creative, theatrical performances, Vagabond Opera is one of the few bands that can put on a thrilling show while still delivering the musical goods. And they’re not kidding around about the “Opera” part, either — the group’s lineup includes classically trained tenor and soprano vocals (singing in over a dozen languages), not to mention accordion, cello, stand-up bass, musical saw, and more. This track comes from their just-released third album, The Zeitgeist Beckons:

MP3 Monday: Turisas

TurisasIt’s been a while since we’ve covered the Finnish metal scene, but my inbox is overrun with readers clamoring for Turisas and I am nothing if not a man of the people. (And a fan of heavy metal accordion, of course.) Turisas are purveyors of that unique brand of Finnish metal combining traditional metal (crunchy guitars, hoarse vocals) with folk elements (like the accordion and violin), over-the-top costumes and makeup, and lyrics about war, blood, and death. You really need to see them live to get the full effect, but this track will probably be enough to give some of you nightmares.

How Many Hippies? 17 Hippies

17 HippiesThey aren’t really hippies. In fact, there aren’t even 17 of them (13 at last count). But that hasn’t stopped Berlin’s 17 Hippies from rolling dozens of genres — Eastern European folk, French chanson, Cajun/zydeco, and more — into a unique pop style all their own. Lyrics sung in German, French, and English somehow all feel at home when layered over accordion, ukulele, banjo, clarinet, bouzouki, and trombone. When the band first started, members intentionally chose instruments they had never touched; twelve years and 1200 concerts later, they’re still playing traditional tunes and instruments in an entirely untraditional way.

Last year, 17 Hippies played at Mountain Stage in West Virginia; you can listen that entire, high-energy appearance online at the NPR website. And if I haven’t sold you enough, here’s a track off their excellent 2007 album, Heimlich:

Milen Slavov Teaches Anytime, Anywhere

Milen SlavovBulgaria seems to have no shortage of great accordionists and Milen Slavov is one of the brightest lights in Balkan traditional and contemporary music. He moved to America in 1997 and currently performs, composes, produces, and teaches throughout the United States and Canada. I know a few of our readers saw him perform with the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio last year.

We’ve seen some online accordion lesson courses before, but nothing quite like the ones that Milen is currently offering through his website. He offers both custom audio (he’ll send you an MP3) and custom video lessons based around one of four subjects: ornaments in Bulgarian music, Bulgarian/Balkan piano accordion music, phrases and techniques, or improvisation. Even cooler, though, you can schedule face-to-face lessons to be conducted via webcam.

Normally, I’m a little skeptical of online video lessons because there’s no substitute for the feedback you get from a real teacher. But I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the possibility of taking lessons (even long-distance ones) from one of the world’s top accordionists. If anyone out there takes a lesson from Milen, let us know. I’d be really curious to hear how it goes.

Older posts »