MP3 Monday: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan: Together Through LifeIt only took forty years and thirty-three albums for Bob Dylan to realize what we already knew — that the accordion is the perfect instrument. His latest record, Together Through Life, which debuted at the top of the charts last month, features the excellent Tex-Mex accordion stylings of Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo on nearly every track. I think Dylan’s only regret is that he didn’t realize the accordion’s value earlier in his career:

“I wished I had used it more on some of my past records… I use an accordion player when I play off-road shows. It’s a perfect instrument in a lot of ways. It’s orchestrative and percussive at the same time. Actually accordion players were the first musicians I had seen a lot of growing up.”

Amen, Bob. You’re preaching to the choir here.

MP3 Monday: Tower of Dudes

Today’s featured track comes from Tower of Dudes, a band hailing from the Czech Republic. But there’s nothing traditionally Czech here; the lyrics are English and the music is a combination of high-energy punk and country twang. Toting an eclectic array of instruments — accordion, banjo, mandolin, melodica, glockenspiel — they remind of me of a slightly tamer, but no less interesting, version of Gogol Bordello.

MP3 Monday: Hey Marseilles

From Petosa to Jason Webley, we’ve always known Seattle to be a forward-thinking, accordion-savvy town. So it’s no surprise that one of Seattle’s hottest new bands, Hey Marseilles, features our favorite instrument as well. Drawing comparisons to bands like Arcade Fire and Beirut, Hey Marseilles plays swirling, orchestral folk-rock with soaring arrangements incorporating violin, cello, sousaphone, trumpet, bass drum, and more. Their self-released debut album, To Travels & Trunks, ranges from ambitiously sweeping to soft and spare. The selection below is one of my favorites, and a great accordion showcase.

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.

MP3 Monday: Irish Punk for St. Patrick’s Day

Matt Hensley of Flogging MollyAfter two weeks of shuffling boxes back and forth between our old and new homes, we’re back and ready to squeeze. And since we’ve left you high and dry for so long, we’ll make up for it with not one, but two tracks to add to your St. Patrick’s Day party playlist.

Metromix Denver put together a fun field guide to Irish punk bands and, of course, all such lists begin with the genre’s creators: The Pogues. Mixing traditional Irish instruments like the accordion and tin whistle with punk rock attitude and politically-charged lyrics, The Pogues are the blueprint that all other Irish/Celtic punk bands follow. This track features some nice accordion work by The Pogues’ accordionist, James Fearnley:

Flogging Molly approaches the Irish punk sound by melding old and new world — leader Dave King grew up in Dublin, but has spent most of his adulthood in Los Angeles. Named in honor of the L.A. club where the band cut its teeth, Flogging Molly have built a strong following over the years and their latest album, Float, cracked the top 5 in Billboard’s album chart last year. Skateboarder turned accordion player Matt Hensley squeezes the box for Flogging Molly:

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MP3 Monday: La Strada

La StradaWithout releasing a record, Brooklyn’s La Strada has already built a loyal New York City following; so their fanbase should balloon after the release of their self-titled debut EP next Tuesday, February 24th. With swelling strings, soaring harmonies, and (of course) plenty of accordion, this passionate seven-piece is well on their way to removing the word “next” from their “next big thing” promise. To me, their sound is somewhere between Beirut and DeVotchKa — marrying old-world folk/Balkan stylings with modern American rock and then running away with it to join the circus.

Franz Nicolay’s Accordions

Franz NicolayI’m always curious to hear what gear “professional” accordion players are carrying around — and it’s even better to hear the stories behind their choices. Franz Nicolay, keyboard/accordion player for The Hold Steady, recently posted on the band’s message board in response to a question asking what kind of accordion he plays. Turns out he currently has three: a red 72-bass Hohner Concerto II, a full-size 120-bass Galanti, and a ladies-size 120-bass Iorio Candido. I liked the bittersweet story behind the Galanti:

“The really good one is a full-size 120-bass Galanti, an Italian beast I bought off a Bulgarian fellow named Sergio in Forest Hills about five years ago. I found him on Yahoo Classifieds; it’s kind of a sad story: he’d emigrated with his brother fifty years earlier, and they’d always lived together, worked together, never married, and after work they’d play accordion duets in the basement. When his brother died, he couldn’t bring himself to play alone. So he gave me an incredible deal, because, he said, ‘I can tell you’re a musician and I want it to go to someone who’ll play it.'”

In addition to The Hold Steady, Franz plays with a number of other groups, including the World/Inferno Friendship Society, Anti-Social Music, and Guignol, and he just released his solo debut, Major General.

MP3 Monday: The Gourds

The Gourds: Haymaker!It’s hard to believe we haven’t mentioned The Gourds before, but the release of their excellent new album, Haymaker!, is the perfect occasion to make amends. Hailing from the musical melting pot of Austin, the Gourds’ music runs the gamut from straight country to swamp rock to Cajun, with a few stops along the way. As the Gourds enter their second decade, they continue to extend their fanbase with a reputation built on clever, heavily-referential lyrics and high-energy live performances.

Today’s download is “Country Love,” the opening track from Haymaker! In addition to Claude Bernard’s accordion, it features some of my favorite star-gazing lyrics since Wilco’s “California Stars.”

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: 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.

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