MP3 Monday: The Polka Floyd Show

We’re back! After a long vacation, we’re tanned, rested, and ready to share some strange and wonderful things from the accordion world with you. Let’s start with some classic rock with a twist; as you can guess from their name, The Polka Floyd Show isn’t your typical Pink Floyd tribute band. This Ohio band combines a love for Roger Waters and the boys with accordion and peppy polka rhythms. Their latest release, Live from the Ohio Theatre, showcases tracks from throughout Pink Floyd’s lengthy career, including early chestnuts like “The Gnome,” while a lively crowd eats it up.

You might think their schtick would get old quickly, but the musicianship is solid and the energy never wanes. Traditional? Hardly. Campy? A bit. Fun? Absolutely.

AOL Launches Polka Radio

After last month’s announcement heralding the end of the polka Grammy, polka lovers have been waiting for some good news. Last week, AOL Radio answered the call by launching an all-polka station, broadcasting happy polka beats around the clock. The mix is actually pretty good so far — in addition to the usual suspects (Yankovic, Sturr, etc.), I’ve heard Brave Combo, Those Darn Accordions, and even conjunto pioneer Narciso Martinez.

If you’re simply looking for a jukebox, AOL’s polka station does a fine job. But if you prefer hearing the occasional human voice, I recommend checking out — the Internet’s first around-the-clock polka radio channel. Their programming schedule features shows hosted by polka personalities from across the country, including Tony Petkovsek, Wild Wilson, and more.

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.

Quick Links: Polka Grammy Backlash

Last week’s news about the elimination of the polka Grammy brought the polka sympathizers out of the woodwork…

  • The Grammys Bite Polka
    Humorist Barry Mitchell (“Accordion Guy” on ABC’s World News Now) takes to the streets with this bouncy rant against the Grammys.
  • Is Polka Out of Step?
    Nice editorial from the LA Times: “The Grammy snobs might think that polka’s three-quarter time is up. But this is a genre that’s been around for more than a century longer than rock ‘n’ roll… it will proudly waltz on.”
  • Defending the Polka
    Great interview with Mark Halata of Houston polka band Texavia about Texas Czech polka, its origins and influences, and its place in the 21st century.
  • Polka Grammy Outrage
    Entertainment Weekly interviews 18-time polka Grammy winner Jimmy Sturr, who explains why the Grammys have made a terrible mistake.

The Polka Grammy Is No More

I was hoping for an Accordion Awareness Month filled with only positive stories; unfortunately, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had other ideas. Yesterday the Academy announced the elimination of the polka category from the Grammy Awards, wiping out one of polka’s few remaining venues for national exposure. Carl Finch, leader and accordionist for two-time Grammy winner Brave Combo, was understandably disappointed:

“It’s devastating… Polka is so misunderstood, you know, the butt of jokes. Having a polka category was the most important step to legitimacy that we could ever hope to achieve. To have that taken away, it’s like it was all for nothing.”

According to the Academy, the polka category was removed “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.” One official cited the declining number of entries (only 20 in 2006) as a deciding factor. That only five artists had won the award in its 24 years — including 18-time winner Jimmy Sturr — made the category appear even less competitive.

This is definitely tough news for the polka community, especially for those bands who enjoyed media attention at Grammy time. But ultimately, I don’t think there are any polka fans who love the music any less today than they did yesterday, and I doubt this will stop any of the hard-working polka bands who fill dance floors across the country from doing what they love most.

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Quick Links: Oh Canada!

Once again, we spotlight our hockey and accordion-lovin’ neighbors:

  • Accordion Revolution
    Great pair of interviews that focus almost entirely on accordion-playing. One with our old favorite Geoff Berner (touring in support of his new album, Klezmer Mongrels) and the other with Felicity Hamer of the United Steelworkers of Montreal.
  • Joanna Chapman-Smith
    Like Geoff Berner, Joanna is another klezmer-influenced accordionist from Vancouver. She combines jazzy vocal stylings with acoustic roots instrumentation, killer clarinet lines and accordion flourishes, a touch of modern jazz and a touch of cabaret.
  • Walter Ostanek Band
    Canada’s Polka King finally has a website (and blog) worthy of his title. I really like the videos — Walter is warm, genuine, and, of course, an incredible accordion player.

MP3 Monday: 2009 Grammy Winners

While the headlines around yesterday’s Grammy Awards focused on the artists featured during the CBS telecast, we’re turning the spotlight on those noble, accordion-toting winners who flew under the radar at the pre-telecast ceremony.

It was no surprise that Jimmy Sturr walked away with his 18th Grammy for Best Polka Album. This was Sturr’s fourth consecutive win and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone else wins this category. (Per our interview with Jimmy three years ago: “I’ll [step down] when the New York Yankees do.”)

Meanwhile, Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet took home the Grammy for Best Zydeco/Cajun Album. (Initially, we heard that Steve Riley won this award, but it turns out there was some confusion because both albums have the same title.) Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips from their winning album — but I did find one place where you can buy it online:

Conjunto legends Los Tigres del Norte won once again for Best Norteño Album. They’ve already collected numerous Latin Grammys over the years and appear to have extended their dominion over the main awards ceremony as well.

One of our longtime favorites, They Might Be Giants, won their second Grammy, this time for Best Musical Album for Children. The Here Come the 123s album and DVD has been in heavy rotation in our household for months and nothing calms our fussy baby faster.

If you know of any other accordion artists who won hardware at the Grammys last night, let us know!

Start ‘Em Young: Pint Size Polkas

Pint Size PolkasWe’re just starting to explore the vast world of children’s music, but Pint Size Polkas by Uncle Mike and his Polka Band already sounds like a must-have for our collection.

Creator and Wisconsin polka musician Mike Schneider first heard polka music when he was five years old and, even then, the bouncy rhythms made a lasting impression. He recorded Pint Size Polkas “to help children and their families discover the good, clean fun that you will experience with polka music.” With songs like “Alphabet Polka,” “Numbers Schottische,” and “Tiny Bubbles in the Tub,” children will learn about the alphabet, numbers, and even hygiene while dancing to a polka beat.

If you’re in the Midwest, keep an eye on your local news — Mike’s been doing a number of local TV appearances over the past few weeks. If you miss those appearances, you can catch the video for “Jolly Lumberjack Polka” on YouTube.

MP3 Monday: LynnMarie and the Boxhounds

LynnMarie and Charlie Kelley as the BoxhoundsToday we’re featuring another Grammy-nominated track, this time from the polka side of the aisle. Although she’s been nominated five times for Best Polka Album — and was the first female nominee in that category — LynnMarie’s music stretches far beyond the boundaries of polka. Working with longtime collaborator, guitarist Charlie Kelley, Speechless is an instrumental record incorporating rock, country, Tex-Mex, and Cajun flavors. No matter what the style, though, LynnMarie’s bouncy button accordion is always at the center of the action.

Like so many other great artists in the polka category, she’s been continually thwarted in her Grammy quest by 17-time winner Jimmy Sturr. Will this be the year she breaks through?

Quick Links: Super Bowl Edition

  • Pittsburgh Steelers Polka
    I don’t really have a rooting interest in Sunday’s game, but Happy Louie’s rendition of the “Pennsylvania Polka” with Steelers-themed lyrics makes me want to break out my Terrible Towel.
  • Arizona Accordion Club
    Just so Cardinals fans don’t feel slighted… the Arizona Accordion Club has one of the best accordion club websites we’ve seen and even offers scholarships for young accordionists.
  • 31st Annual Concertina Bowl
    Every year in Blaine, MN, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, dozens of chemnitzer concertina players gather for 12 hours of nonstop concertina music. This year’s featured band is Gilly Maus and the Country Polkateers.

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