Let's Polka - An Accordion Blog

MP3 Monday: 2010 Grammy Winners

Last night’s Grammy Awards weren’t just about Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and the wonders of Auto-Tune. At the pre-telecast awards ceremony, a handful of accordionists picked up awards, too. Let’s review the big winners:

Best Cajun or Zydeco Album: Buckwheat Zydeco

The Cajun/Zydeco category has only been around for three years, but it’s already produced three different winners. Buckwheat Zydeco played organ for the legendary Clifton Chenier’s band before picking up the accordion and, since Chenier’s death in 1987, has become zydeco’s best-known (and most mainstream) artist. Lay My Burden Down is probably his most mature album to date, mixing his party-time zydeco with inspired covers (including “When the Levee Breaks”).

Best Tejano Album: Los Texmaniacs

We reviewed this album last summer and were excited to see it recognized last night. Both Texmaniacs leader Max Baca and accordionist David Farias have shared in other Grammy wins, but this was the first for their group that combines blues and rock with traditional conjunto. On Borders y Bailes, released on Smithsonian Folkways, they breathe new life into the century-old music of the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Best Norteño Album: Los Tigres Del Norte

With more than 32 million records sold in their 40-year history, Los Tigres have long been the kings (or “Los Jefes de Jefes”) of norteño music, so their victory was no surprise. What’s surprising, though, is that Tu Noche Con… is their first live album. Los Tigres take their role as spokesmen of the people very seriously, and the album contains a great mix of the politically and socially-charged corridos, rancheras, ballads and cumbias that have built them a loyal following.

And finally, for those wondering how 18-time Grammy winner Jimmy Sturr would fair after the polka Grammy’s demise last year — he lost to Loudon Wainright III for Best Traditional Folk Album. There’s always next year.

Hacking an Electronic Melodeon

Electronic melodeonEyeing one of those fancy, but pricey, electronic accordions? Why not build your own? Lee O’Donnell did just that. He took a toy melodeon (diatonic accordion), replaced the keys and reeds with electronics, and wrote some software to generate sounds with every push and pull. The result is a very capable electronic accordion, capable of producing everything from the sound of a traditional accordion to a retro 8-bit video game.

(Found via Hack a Day)

Inside Main Squeeze NYC

As we learned while building our directory, accordion shops — particularly ones that only sell and repair accordions — are few and far between. So we were excited to run across this video promoting Main Squeeze, the colorful accordion shop on New York City’s Lower East Side.

Run by Walter Kuhr, the store offers new/used accordions, repairs and lessons, and is home base for the all-female Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra. Main Squeeze even has its own line of accordions, most notably the Model 911 — a compact 72 bass accordion made from walnut wood. Seems to a popular model as I’ve seen photos of a few artists using it recently, including John Linnell of They Might Be Giants.

Grammy Nominees Announced

The Best Polka Album award may be gone, but there are still plenty of accordions among the nominees announced yesterday for the 52nd annual Grammy Awards. The Best Cajun/Zydeco Album category is full of them:

The accordion is apparently mandatory in the Best Norteño Album category, too:

There are also a handful of accordionists scattered through other categories. Los Texmaniacs and Sunny Sauceda are both vying for Best Tejano Album, Weird Al Yankovic is up for Best Comedy Album, and David Hidalgo’s accordion was a key ingredient in Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life, nominated for Best Americana Album.

And finally, many thought that the demise of the polka award would spell the end of 18-time winner Jimmy Sturr’s Grammy run. Not so fast — Jimmy and his orchestra garnered yet another Grammy nomination; this time, for Best Traditional Folk Album. The competition will be stiffer but, after all these years, I know better than to bet against Jimmy Sturr.

Accordion Gift Guide 2009

Maybe you braved the crowds on Black Friday. Or maybe you stayed home and ate Thanksgiving leftovers. Either way, Christmas is less than a month away and you still need a gift for that accordion lover in your life. Don’t worry, we’re here to help with our annual Accordion Gift Guide — a roundup of books, music, videos, and other goodies that will look great in any accordion player’s Christmas stocking.

The new Roland FR-7x V-Accordion has had tech-savvy accordionists drooling since its introduction a few months ago. Improving on its predecessor, the already-popular FR-7, the new model features more sounds, faster response and higher sensitivity, and a USB port for playback and recording.

Tedrow ConcertinaPrefer the feel and sound of a classic, acoustic instrument? Check out the handmade concertinas built by Bob Tedrow of Homewood Music. More than just instruments, Bob’s concertinas are practically works of art, proudly billed as “150 years behind the times.” The waiting list for his concertinas is currently several months long, so act now if you want one by next Christmas.

There’s a good chance, though, you’re shopping for someone who already has an accordion and what they really need is a lesson or two. (Not that you’d ever say that out loud…) A pair of Texas accordion teachers have great accordion lesson DVDs: for piano accordionists, try Debra Peters’ blues/rock accordion DVDs, while button accordionists will enjoy Sheila Lee’s DVD for beginners playing the GCF button accordion. I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I’ve also been impressed by clips of British accordionist Murray Grainger’s new DVD, Accordion: Mastering the Art.

Brave Combo: Christmas PresentFor holiday music, accordion-style, Brave Combo has just released a live holiday album called Christmas Present, a nice companion to their earlier releases Holiday! and It’s Christmas, Man. Their polka arrangement of “Must Be Santa” was borrowed by Bob Dylan for his new Christmas album, Christmas Heart, which features the accordion playing of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.

Lighting a menorah instead of a Christmas tree? Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah, an album of Guthrie’s lyrics put to music by the Klezmatics, is a couple years old but still a great choice for a boisterous Hanukkah celebration.

The holidays are fun, but they can be stressful, too; after weeks of shopping, traveling, and dealing with family, who hasn’t felt like locking themselves in the bedroom with a good book? We’ve got options there, too. Blair Kilpatrick’s Accordion Dreams, is a heartwarming tale of her transformative obsession with Cajun and Creole music. For a more historical perspective, Ryan Brasseaux’s Cajun Breakdown is one of the most thoroughly researched histories of Cajun music ever published.

Mi Música shirtNeed something to wear when you aren’t carrying an accordion? In addition to producing fantastic collections of folk music from around the world, Smithsonian Folkways has neat t-shirts, too, including this accordion-themed design. There are some great shirts on Etsy, too — this stenciled accordion shirt and the cheeky “Instruments of War”, which shows an accordion amidst a sea of weapons (club, axe, banjo).

One of our favorite products of the past year is Elena Erber’s nifty accordion backstraps. Anna and I have been using them for a few months now and they’re comfortable, easy to adjust and great for your back. We’re also big fans of the annual Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. It’s accompanied by a CD of folk, jazz, gypsy, goth, and pop accordion, just in case the eye candy isn’t enough for you.

Want more ideas? Check out our 2008 Accordion Gift Guide or browse our other shopping-related posts. And if you find other great accordion-related gifts out there, leave a comment and let us know!

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MP3 Monday: Los Enmascarados

Los EnmascaradosCombine KISS with lucha libre and put it to an accordion-fueled conjunto beat, and you have Los Enmascarados. Wearing the type of colorful masks typically seen on Mexican wrestlers — and hiding their real personas behind nicknames — this energetic band has a built a loyal following in Texas, even earning a Tejano Music Awards nomination. And, just in case you try to pick a fight with them, the band would like to remind you: “No Somos Luchadores” (We’re Not Wrestlers).

Investigating Detektivbyrån

Move over ABBA; I have a new favorite Swedish band. Detektivbyrån is a folk/electronic Swedish trio with a penchant for whimsical arrangements and Amelie-inspired melodies. Like a music box gone wild, their instrumentals balance the sprightly tinkling of glockenspiel, bells, and toy piano with a boisterous accordion and occasional synthesizer. This video captures the band performing “Generation Celebration” from their latest album, Wermland.

(Found via Lauralee and Squeezytunes)

The Corner Laughers, Ultraviolet Garden

The Corner Laughers, Ultraviolet Garden

Our friends, The Corner Laughers, have just released their second album, Ultraviolet Garden, available from their website and iTunes. Anna is featured playing accordion on one track, and she also did the album art!

During production of the track “Dead Sicilians,” the band brought Anna (and her accordion) on board to give the song an authentic Italian feel. From the decorative accents to the frenzied climax, the accordion really packs a punch. Check it out!

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.

Dylan Does Brave Combo

It’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit, which may explain this week’s release of Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart. Nestled among classics like “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Silver Bells” is a tune that will be instantly recognizable to Brave Combo fans: “Must Be Santa” from the band’s own Christmas album (It’s Christmas, Man!) in 1991. Dylan’s version is nearly identical to their arrangement, right down to the polka beat and bouncy accordion supplied by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. You can listen to Dylan’s rendition using the widget below:

Is it a coincidence or is Bob Dylan a closet Brave Combo fan? Turns out it’s the latter — apparently Dylan once played the Brave Combo version on his satellite radio show. Yet another score for the boys from Denton.

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