We will do cd reviews for bands that either play polka music or music that might appeal to lovers of polka music. To get a review of your cd that you can use on your own website (or anywhere you want for that fact) please mail a cd to:
Bestpolkabands c/o DJ Companion Records
1623 Military Road #509
Niagara Falls, NY
Attn: Rob Savickis
For people who who would prefer to mail to a Canadian address please mail to:
Bestpolkabands c/o DJ Companion Records
480 Maple Ave. #307
Attn: Rob Savickis
NOW ---------------------ON TO THE REVIEWS:
The Polka Brothers have arrived on the polka scene not with a whimper but with a big huge bang. How many polka bands do you know that will be doing 40 shows in the month of October alone. This is partially due to recently cementing a year-round residency at Midtown Manhattan's Hofbrau Bierhaus, however, they are also busy doing shows throughout the Northeast. And yes, for those of you who are trying to do the math, many days they are in fact doing 2 or more shows.
I know that next time I go visit New York, I will certainly go find the Hofbrau Bierhaus and see if the Polka Brothers are playing. In the last month they have come out with a fantastic debut album, with 11 original tracks as well as very solid version of the song just about every polka band has done, the Clarinet Polka.
So, you may ask, where did these guys come from? Well, reading their bios this is one talented bunch. The Polka Brothers are Saturday Night Live Band Member Geoff Countryman, prominent TV/Film composers Matt Veligdan & Brian McKenna, and premier session bassist Chris "Bones" Bonner. I must say they are doing a great job of keeping polka music alive, as well as making it fresh and new while keeping in the tradition of the old classics. They have tapped into timeless polka concepts in songs like "The Beer Goggle Polka" and "The Sausage Festival" as well as presenting comedic concepts in other songs.
I actually have yet to receive a copy of the cd because what I got from the Polka Brothers was all of the songs on the album in mp3 format before the album was even released. I transferred these songs to a cd so I could play them on my radio show on 247 and listen to them in the car so I could formulate the review. One of the things that I get most excited about is that there are NEW polka bands taking the world by storm. As long as these new bands emerge, the music will always be kept alive and new. And by the way, the songs on the cd are quite good too. You can buy a copy here: Polka Brothers
A couple of weeks ago I received a cd in the mail. The artist was Bud Hyrczyk. I had heard the name and seemed to remember hearing some of his music which I liked on the various polka radio shows out there, but really I didn't know much else. I did not have any of his previous cds or lps, some of which I understand are now out of print, which sort of makes them collectors items. If you have any of his early material hold on to it. If for whatever reason you have to get rid of those lps (don't know what reason that would be - ) please send them to me (lol).
So I opened the cd and was quite impressed. The quality of the photography on the cover and so forth was very nice, in a genre where cd artwork does not always take priority. I had picked up the cd at my Niagara Falls NY depot, so once I examined the cd, the first thing I did was put it in my car cd player.
Once again I was impressed. The recording quality is excellent, and the material is inspired. There are 17 new button-box tunes on this cd, all instrumental and all written by Bud Hyrczyk.
The polkas and waltzes on this cd are performed in the classic Slovenian, Cleveland style. In addition to the 17 tracks written by Bud Hyrczyk, there is one other song, Slovenia, which I believe is a traditional folk song, though I am not 100 % sure of that. In any case, there is a total of 18 songs. I would say that this cd is a must-have for the collection of any fans of Slovenian-style, button box music.
I was trying to determine a favorite but that was very hard to do. The cd is very consistent throughout. I like all the songs but now having listened to the cd many times there is still not one or two songs that stand head and shoulders above the rest, like I am usually used to. So I gave up trying to determine a favorite and just continue to listen to the cd beginning to end.
Of course, once I got home and on the internet, one of the first things I did was research Bud Hyrczyk, and for those of you who might not be completely familiar with him, I will repeat the story, in a Reader's Digest abbreviated form.
Growing up in South-Western Pennsylvania, Bud spent much of his childhood listening to Slovenian-style music. Although he first studied the accordion when he was 11, began playing the button box when he started the family band, and he never went back to playing the piano accordion again. When it comes to Slovenian polkas and waltzes he feels that the button box is nearly an extension of the human voice and allows you to better express yourself in this genre. He released his first button box album in 1983, called Buttons Buttons Buttons. This album has long been sold out.
Unfortunately, Bud stopped playing in 1986 and didn’t pick up the button box again for nearly 25 years until March of 2010. He immediately started composing new songs and recording them at his home studio, playing all of the parts himself. Later that same year in November 2010, Bud released his first recording since 1983, called Fly Away With Me.
During the first half of 2011 Bud worked with HG Studio in Wisconsin to produce his latest recording, the one I am reviewing, titled, If You Only Believe. The new recording was released in June, 2011 and features 17 brand new, original, polkas and waltzes. This time, like with his 1983 release, Bud is backed by a Cleveland-style, all-star band.
I have set up a page at www.bestpolkabands.com for Bud. To get more info or to purchase the cds that are still available as well as the new one you can go here: Hyrczyk, Bud
One final thing I must note, and I believe one of the main reasons for the outstanding sound on the cd is the quality of the people that are backing up Bud on this cd, Don Hunjadi, Eric Noltkamper and Chris Doszak:
HG Studio is owned by Don Hunjadi, who is also co-producer on this cd with Bud and adds an assortment of sounds to the cd including sax, clarinet, flute, bass guitar and piano. The cd was recorded at HG Studio.
I have now heard a few cds with associations with HG Studio and Don Hunjadi, and have come to the conclusion that if Hunjadi is involved with the project, it is worth getting. He is also a dj with polkaparade and here is a bit of info from his bio:
"In 1982, at the age of 19, Don opened his own recording studio. HG Studio quickly became a standard setting example for the industry to follow. Don has lent his extraordinary talents as a recording engineer to thousands of recordings of all musical styles over the past nearly 30 years. Don has engineered many recordings that have won critical acclaim from the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Awards (WAMI), including many from Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement award winner Verne Meisner."
"Shortly after opening HG Studio, Don became involved with polka radio. Together with Rick Gundrum, he hosted "Blue Chip Polkas" on WYMS, a Milwaukee area Public Schools radio station, for many years. During the later half of the 1980s and throughout the 1990's, Don also hosted "Polka Funtime" every Sunday morning on WAUK radio out of Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he also held the mid-day on-air slot for several years playing clasic country music on 1510 AM. Now with over 28 years of radio experience, Don Hunjadi has become one of the longest-running polka radio show hosts in the state. With the advent of the Internet, Don's quick wit and up-beat style shows are now be heard by polka lovers from across the United States and throughout the world."
"With hundreds of polka music releases to Don Hunjadi and HG Studio's credit, it is hard to thumb through a stack of polka recordings and not find some that Don has either played on, recorded in his studio, or both. Don's polka music plans for the future are simple: Continue to deliver polka radio shows and record polka music in the recording studio for the public's consumption and enjoyment!"
In a similar theme, Eric Noltkamper's presence on this cd makes it a must-have. One of my absolute favorites on the Polkas For Charity: Polka Fever compilation cd (which I also recommend) is Eric Noltkamper's Right Time Polka. While I like most of the tracks on the Polka Fever cd, Noltkamper's song struck me as exceptionally great and it was one of those tracks that I kept on repeating over and over and over again. I am still not tired of it and listened to it again today. It makes me want to get the rest of the Noltkamper collection.
Chris Doszak on drums rounds out this who's who of the polka world on this cd. From his International Main Street Polka band biography, "Chis Doszak has been playing drums since the age of 6. He grew up in Joliet, Illinois where his father, Bob Doszak, had a very popular polka band. The influence of his father’s band and his older brother, drummer, Bob Doszak Jr., sparked Chris’s interest in music and so he also wanted to play drums. Through out those early years Chris became acquainted with all the greats in the world of polka music, Frankie Yankovic, Verne Meisner, Joey Miskulin, Roger Bright, Myron Floren and the list goes on and on. Chris was a quick study and became a very skilled drummer in very short period of time. He soon began working in his father’s band and also with all those famous polka band leaders that Chris had met. Since those early years Chris has gone on to play and record with some of the finest polka groups in the country." Needless to say he does a great job on the drums on this cd.
Another Hazelton Reunion:
No, I don't have any insider info about another Jan Lewan Reunion, at least not yet - I did hear on facebook that he did perform with Polka Family on tour in Detroit and there is another Poland tour with Jan Lewan in 2012. Of course a couple of days ago I just finished my review of the DVD and cd set that he put out after his reunion with his band after close to a ten year gap.
There is another band however that was playing in Hazleton before Jan Lewan was even on the scene. During the 1960's and 1970's, the Polskie Swingmasters were one of the area's hottest Polka bands, playing as many as four shows each week, and touring throughout Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and even Illinois.
The "Swings", as their fans called them, released three successful polka albums: "Good Living", "Out All Night" and "Polka Jukebox". Some of their best known songs were "Mommy's Homemade Chicken Soup", "You're Driving Me Crazy", "Old Blue Jeans" and "We've Got It All Together".
Now, after close to 30 years, the band has reunited. Original members Steve Brill, Jack Belovesick and Carl Simchena decided to play a limited number of engagements and release a great new cd titled "Jammin' At the Cabin".
Here is the official "Swingmaster Band" history as written on the cd by Steve Brill:
"In mid-1950 a band was formed by a few musicians living in the Hazleton, PA area and they named the band the Swingmasters. I joined the group in late 1966. We played many weddings, picnics, parties with a variety of music, mainly Polkas, but also slow dance tunes (Billy Vaughn style) cha-chas and jitterbug. Polkas were very popular at that time so we decided to do a polka album and changed the name of the band to reflect that. Thus the name "The Polskie Swingmasters". We were fortuante over the years to do a total of three albums between 1969 and 1977. The titles are "Good Living", "Out All Night" and "Polka Jukebox"."
"We had a lot of fun and good times and met many people and made a lot of friends, but with all of the band members working full time jobs and then going on the road on the weekends to do different gigs, it was becoming very stressful and we reluctantly agreed to disband in late 1978."
"Since I retired I thought it would be nice to try and get together again and record some of the most requested tunes we did but never recorded and re-do a few that were already on our albums. I called some former band members and some friends and they were receptive to the idea. So we got together, dusted off the instruments, tuned up and before long we were .....Jammin' At the Cabin."
Review by Rob Savickis:
Playing music must be like riding a bicycle because despite a 30 year break, the Polskie Swingmasters have managed to create a great cd. I am not familiar with their earlier works (I imagine they are lps) but since I received their latest cd a bit more than a month ago the Polskie Swingmasters have entertained me with a very impressive variety of songs.
The cd is a mix of high quality covers of other polka artists such as Happy Louie, Ray Henry, L'il Wally and Blazonczyk, traditional songs and re-makes of several original Swingmaster tunes. In total there are 16 songs which include 3 polka medleys 2 of which are over 5 minutes long. Two of the songs are ones that appeared on previous albums and they wanted to re-do.
Song selection was done by Steve Brill and he did a great job with this task, as he did with recording and mixing the music at the cabin in Sweet Hollow, Drums, PA. Hank Guzevich also provided technical support and advice. You know that if Hank Guzevich is involved with a project that it is going to be good!
All the songs on this cd are outstannding. There is no filler. Of course I do have a few favorites. Polish Wedding-Polka Medley is a great medley that I would definitely play if I was called to DJ a Polish wedding and I have enjoyed listening to it immensely. In a DJ situation I think I would follow it up with Lewan's Polish Medley from his latest reunion cd, which is an oberek. Between the 2 medleys you would have I think 7-8 minutes of musical ecstasy on the dance floor.
I also very much enjoyed listening to (over and over and over and over again because I like it so much - lol) the track that follows the Polish Wedding-Polka Medley, Sail Along Silvery Moon. It compares very very well to the definitive version done by Billy Vaughn. As well I was thoroughly entertained by the French Song. For years I had played the defintive version by Lucille Starr when called upon to DJ the song, but in the future if I am requested to play an instrumental version of the song I will use the Polskie Swingmaster track from this cd.
While I have said before that this cd great from beginning to end, there are 2 tracks that are so memorable that they keep ringing in my head long after I have listened to the cd. Old Blue Jeans Polka, track 14 is one great great great song, and very well done, as is the Swingmaster version of the I Wonder Why Polka, track 15. Your favorites may very well be different ones than mine but whatever they may be, "Jammin' At the Cabin" is a necessary additon to any serious polka cd collection. You can get more information about the band and order the cd here: Swingmasters
Raving Polka's band members have been around since the early 90's and have played with major actsd all over the United States and Canada at 100's of places including the Kerrville Folk Fest, Bethlehem Music Fest, California World Fest and the Edmonton Folk Fest. You may have heard their music in movies and TV shows like "Euro Trip", "Blade II", "Malcolm In The Middle" and "Armageddon".
Raving Polka was created as a subset of the band Limpopo www.limpopo.com . Limpopo has its origins in Moscow since 1986. This group toured the former Soviet Union performing in some of its more famous theaters. At the peak of Limpopo’s fame there, Yuri & Igor emigrated to the United States with only two of the original cast at his heels. In 1991, Limpopo reformed in the States as a four-member folk and comedy troupe. They were very successful performing for audiences of all ages across Canada and the United States at music and comedy festivals, children’s festivals, clubs, and college campuses. In 1993, they competed on and won the Ed McMahon’s International Star Search band competition. In 1995, they showcased at The National Association for Campus Activities convention in Boston where over 150 colleges signed up to bring the band to their campuses! They were voted by readers of Campus Activities Today magazine as "Best Music Act for 1995". They were nominated for Group of the Year at the 1996 Kerrville Music Awards. They were featured in a long running national TV ad for KIT KAT candy bars which became a tongue-in-cheek anthem for them. L.A.’s number one watched news program, KTLA Morning News, featured a live interview and performance of Limpopo and the Los Angeles Music Center on Tour proudly touts Limpopo as one of their most popular and celebrated artists.
Based in southern California, the "Noize One" album features Lou Fanucchi on Accordion, and vocals in Julida, Dean Roubicek on clarinet & sax, Rasputin on drums, Leo Chelyapov on clarinet - Raving Beer Polka, Hoop-Dee-Doo instrumental and Igor Khramov on trombones, percussion, balalaika, bass balalaika & vocals.
Recorded in 2009, Raving Polka "Noize 1" is a unique album they have dedicated to polka music lovers all over the world. I have heard many many bands do versions of the traditional "Clarinet Polka" and Raving Polka's version (Track #5) compares favorably with any of them, as do Julida, the Raving Beer (Barrel) Polka, Lichtensteiner Polka, Pennsylvania Polka, Hoop Dee Doo, and the Too Fat Polka. I especially like the beginning of the Pennsylvania Polka.
What truly makes this album special however is the way Raving Polka integrates these polka classics with some beautiful waltzes and musettes that truly give the album heart and show off the extraordinary talent this group posesses, especially with their mastering of the accordion. I have listened to Musette A La Mode, the California Waltz, and Domino over and over again. These are truly beautiful tracks and I am sure I will listen to them hundreds of more times. Along the same lines, there are tracks at the Raving Polka Myspace site www.myspace.com/ravingpolka that are not included on the Noize One album. 2 songs of note that you should check out there are outstanding accordion/background versions of the Christmas classics White Christmas and Let It Snow.
Getting back to the Noize One album, Hoop Dee Doo is featured 3 times on this album, first on track #3 with a very interesting, funny and unique vocal, then on track 11, the "Hoop Dee Doo Instrumental" and then in the Siberian Popurry Medley. Myself, I would have skipped the instrumental version as it doesn't compare to the other 2, but then maybe they had some hidden purpose for the track that I don't know about.
My absolute favorite song on the album is the last track #16 "Siberian Popurry", appropriately titled since it is a medley of many of the other songs on the album including Hoop Dee Doo, Raving Beer (Barrel) Polka, Pennsylvania Polka, Pennsylvania Polka and She's Too Fat For Me among others. it very well covers some of the biggest hits polka in a perfect blend.
To check out more about the Raving Polka Project check out their website www.ravingpolka.com .
The Europa Band has been entertaining audiences for over 17 years in Florida and around the country. Their largest performance venue is at the City of Orange, California's International Street Fair that has average attendance of 700,000 people over the 3 day Labor Day Weekend. They have performed to a wonderful fan base there for 15 years in a row!
The Europa Band Members (Trio) are:
-Johann Kolbrich: Leader/Manager Lead Vocals, Digital Acoustic Accordion & Trumpet originally from Windsor, Ontario, Canada
-Milan Dvorecky: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Violin & Fiddle, born and raised in Bratislava, Slovakia
-Philip Kolbrich: Drums, Keyboard, Vocals & Schuhplattler Dancing, son of Johann, and born in San Diego, CA -Adam Dvorecky: Drums, Keyboard, Vocals & Schuhplattler Dancing, son of Milan who's home town is Cleveland, OH
-Philip and Adam alternate on performance dates and have been with playing with their fathers for over 5 years now as part of the group.
The Europa Band has a very active performing schedule of over 60 performances a year including Oktoberfests, Festivals, Hofbrau Beer Gardens, and Club Events from Orange County, CA to Miami, FL., Hershey PA to Mt. Angle OR. Europa specializes in German music for Oktoberfests & German Mardi Gras (Fasching/Karneval), Czech-Slovak Festivals, and general European Ethnic Club and International Night Events. "Polka Lives" is there Motto, and those that love polkas, young or old, will love the sound of the Accordion, Violin and The Europa Band's eclectic collection of over 250 songs. As one of their fan's was recently quoted saying "You never know what kind of song or style is coming next with this group!"
Although I just received it this past June, their first album "Oktoberfest Mit Europa" was the group's first album, released in 2006. This should be a mandatory "must have" for anyone who DJ's Oktoberfest events, and for all polka/German traditonal DJ's. For everyone else this is a very enjoyable listen, well produced, and lots of fun.
The cd has a very strong opening with the first track, Ein Prosit & Beer Driinking Medley, the perfect waltz for an Oktoberfest event. Then the cd flows very nicely into a polka "Wir Kommen von Den Bergen, with tracks from that point alternating polka and waltz. Track #8, Edelweiss, is as solid as any other version out there and sets up the following track, Zillertaler Hochzeitsmarsch very nicely.
The cd ends very appropirately just where it started, with a version of Ein Prosit that you DJs can use for your sing alongs at Oktoberfests. As the Europa wrote on their cd, "sit back, open a cold one, and say Prosit! Enjoy.
Check out more about the Europa band at www.theeuropaband.com . You can hear some of their music at that site too.
Two years after the release of their debut cd, The Europa Band released "Deutsche Schlager Mit Europa" in 2008. The cd title translates into English as "German Hits" which were vocal pop songs from the 1950'-1960's and were developed as a unique and distinct style of music in Germany. Thre collection of songs on this album are from before, during and after the initial Schlager era, and have that unique feel, recorded with the Europa Band's unique arrangements and instumentation.
This is an excellent cd and I truly enjoy all the songs, but I do have 4 favorites. For the first 3, track 1"Shangri-La", track 6 "Das Schonste Souvenir Vom Rhein, and the last but not least track 12, a medley, "Die Hande Zum Himmel / Anton Aus Tirol / Ziche-Zache, I am not that familiar with the originals, so all I can say is that the Europa band has outstanding versions that to me are the standards, although in the case of Die Hande Zum Himmel both Alex Meixner and the Europa Band have equally great though different versions of the song. I am sure I will come across other versions soon and look forward to comparing them.
There is one song with which I am intimately familiar, track 9, the German classic "Lili Marlene". I have grown to love this song because my own record label, DJ Companion Records, re-released a version of this song with Al Bachann and Elizabeth Stein on vocals. I will say this much. While I think the Al Bachmann/Elizabeth Stein is the best version of the song with a female vocal, the Europa Band has the best version of the song with a male vocal, and I have listened to many many versions of the song done by many artists, mostly on YouTube. Both covers of the song are far superior, in my opinion, to the original Marlene Dietrich version, the one that sold millions.
I recommend this album to both those interested in German "schlager" and those who are looking for a good "listen".
This is my favourite of the 3 Europa albums that I have listened to so far. Having been a mobile DJ from 1987 on, I became familiar with most of the songs on this cd in one form or another. The Europa Band has assembled on one cd an amazing collection of songs from around the world, and these are some of the most solid versions of some of these songs I have ever heard.
Of particular note, over the years I have played lots of Italian tarantella medleys at weddings and other events and have many such medleys in my collection. The next time I am called to play an Itailan tarantella I will choose the Europa version as in my opinion it is the best. If I am asked to play more than one, maybe then I will select one of the others.
For years I used the Emeralds version of the Bird Dance as it is arguably the standard. Next time I am called on to play this song I am not sure if I would the play the Emeralds version or this one. While I am used to the version I have used for years the appeal of this version is the way it speeds up at the end. I guess I would decide which one to play on a dance-by-dance basis depending on what I felt was the mood of the crowd.
This cd is also very strong for waltzes and waltz medleys. My favorite is is the last track on the cd, the Austrian waltz medley. Listen to it an you can see that it would serve as a real good anniversary waltz. Another great waltz is track 2, Paris Skies. This is as good a version of this song as I have heard. Polkas are not left out on this cd either. Track 3 features the Svedska Polka from Sweden and track 14 is the Fiddler's Polka from Poland.
There are a few other songs of note. For Irish events, I have not heard a more suitable song than track 5, Irish Washerwoman. I really like the Europa's upbeat version of Guantanamera and for line dancers, Never On A Sunday works very well. Every single song I am sure could be used at some point or other. And every single song is a pleasure to listen to, even those few not necessarily for dancing.
As a matter of fact, this cd would also serve very well as background music at truly international events. Every mobile DJ should have a copy of this album in their collection. As I have mentioned with the other Europa Band albums, this is also a great "listen" for the general public. I have certainly enjoyed listening to this album in my car over and over and over again.
East Side Tony's Deluxe Tones, led by Tony Murawski, is a 5 piece band from Baltimore, Maryland. It was formed in 2005 and has since appeared at many premier venues. The band's musicians have been entertaining polka music fans in the Maryland area for many decades, and now they've come together to provide the best in Polish-style polkas, plus, popular American music and all-time dance favorites.
To those hearing about us for the first time, the Deluxe Tones band sound can be described as vibrant, from the heart. When you hear the Deluxe Tones, you'll be reminded of those celebrations when people gathered together, dancing and singing those happy traditional tunes...a cousin's wedding, the parish church festival, the annual summer picnic by the bay, the polka jam at the corner bar. Those wonderful times are now memories that we will cherish forever.
The Deluxe Tones, just released their first album, Eastside Serenade. It isn't a full album as most of the others I have reviewed but rather a mini-cd consisting of 6 covers of well-known polka songs. I am not totally sure if they are selling it as the cd states "For Promotional Purposes Only - Not For Sale" but if you can get your hands on it, it is a very good sampler of the Deluxe Tones sound and of "Polish-American Style Polkas with Polish vocals. Btowons Studios, Towson, Maryland did a very good job of mixing the music which was recorded between January and March 2010.
The cd was engineered by band member Phil Ravita and produced by Tony Morofski as per the liner notes. I am not sure if Tony Morofski and Tony Murawski are one and the same, but I am sure I will find out soon. Kudos must also be given to Phil Ravita for the phorography and cover design. I especially like the picture on the front cover as it conveys the whole "Eastside" theme.
I have selected track number 2, the Clarinet Polka to play here at www.bestpolkabands.com with Tony's permission of course. It is a bluesy version of the classic song that you should listen to to get more familiar with the Deluxe Tones sound. The other tracks are Marion Lush's Hey Cavalier Polka, Jagiello's Na Mojem Weselu (On My Wedding) Polka, as well as his Painter's Polka, Durlak's Zona Moja Gdzie Ty Chodzisz (OJ,OJ) Oberek, and Ampol Aires Tuba Polka. To get more information about this album and the band contact Tony Muraski at 410-484-1615 or email him at email@example.com .
John Gora really knows how to throw a party and what a party he hosted on Friday April 30, 2010 at the Polish Hall in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. On the left stage were The Knewz from Buffalo NY and on the right stage Ed Guca and the Polish Canadians were set up. One of the highlights of the night came when Ania Piwowarczyk joined Ed Guca and the Polish Canadians for a good part of their 2nd set.
I had first heard of Ania last year when I purchased from Jan Lewan the "Last Performance at Trump's Taj Mahal" DVD. Ania was featured in a number of songs at that show as well including her signature song "Cyganeczka" which he sang with Jan Lewan that night and with Ed Guca this past April 30th.
It was a pleasure to hear in person the voice that had won, in 1998, the IPA Female Vocalist of the Year Award. In the spring of 2008, Ania was also honored by the Government of the Republic of Poland, when she was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit for her continued work with the youth of her community, and for her efforts in the continuation and promotion of Polish music, both in Canada and in the United States of America.
Just to give you some background, Ania was born in Montreal, Quebec ( Canada ) to parents who were Polish immigrants. She later moved to Mississauga, Ontario, where she still resides. She was first introduced to Polka lovers with her hit song "Cyganeczka" which she originally recorded with Scrubby and the Dynatones, and later with Jan Lewan and his Orchestra. In addition to her appearences with Lewan, she has also appeared with Joe Macielag, and most recently with Jolly Joe and the Bavarians.
At the show there were a number of cds for sale. One of the cds I picked up was Ania Piwowarczyk's latest cd, produced in 2008 and titled "Life's Too Short...Thank God For Polkas." All I can say is "wow", this is one incredible cd. Great music, great sound, great variety, vocals in both English and Polish, and of course a great great voice. I have many favorites on this cd. Two of them are in a unique style that Ania appropriately calls Polka-Sals, "a little polka with a twist of salsa". Track one, "He Said: OLE OLE" starts off the cd with a bang and is something salsa radio should be playing on a regular basis, as is an Ania original, track 14, "Senor You Are So Fine". I think Ania should do an entire cd in the Polka-Sals style as it fits her style very well, and it works, and it sounds great, in a fun way.
Ania has many originals on this cd and they are some more of the best tracks on the cd. Anyway You Like It, Tesciowa (Mother-In-Law), the final track Life's Too Short, Nie Chee, Cie, all of them are of the quality to become true polka classics and I enjoyed listening to them over and over again.
Also on this cd are outstanding versions of many traditional songs such as Czerwone Jagody, Jednej Deery Matka, Rozmowa and many others. I also especially liked the Ricochet Polka as well as a cover of an Abba song done in a Beguine Style, I Have A Dream. I also remember Ania singing this song on the Jan Lewan Final Performance DVD and I am having a hard trying to figure out which version I like better, the original Abba version which I also have on cd, or the Ania Piwowarczyk version.
As I learned from her website, www.aniapiwo.com Ania is an Honorary Lifetime member of the Polish Singers Alliance of America, and an active member of the Marie Curie-Sklodowska Association in Toronto. She is a regular performer at festivals such as the Cheektowaga Polish-American Festival and the Polish Heritage Festival in New Jersey. In Ontario, she is a regular performer at banquets, senior homes and hospitals. Her love and appreciation of both polkas and music in its entirety is illustrated by her lively and interactive performance, and her enthusiastic audience contact.
I received these 2 cds about a month ago, and wow, what a month its been. First, let me give you some background. Stay All Night is 2007 Grammy Nominated Musician/Composer Alex Meixner's latest cd which was just released this last year and Family Tradition was released the year before that, in 2008.
Family Tradtion pays tribute to a 4 generation legacy of Meixner Music in the United States. It is a collection of 19 absolutely fantastic tunes, some of which were written by Alex, some of which are traditonal, and many that were also written by other members of the legacy, such as his father. What I especially like about this cd is the variety of sounds that are presented. While staying true to the polka roots, the arrangements that Alex presents of these songs give the music a more contemporary feel that allows the music to be appreciated by a wider audience. As Alex himself states on the cd: "As styles and fashions change, what is old becomes new and what is new becomes old. I truly enjoy the opportunity to present both traditonal and contemporary styles and look forward to continuing the family tradtion for a number of years."
Of particular note on this cd are a number of the tracks. Having been a mobile DJ since 1987, my personal favorite was probably the Button Box Bonanza Medley. Meixner plays 3 Slovenian Polka Standards that will keep the crowd going for close to 6 minutes. Hurray For Charlie is a fun song in the dixieland style. Jux Polka would be the perfect song for a polka competition. And Alex says in the notes that he plays it even faster in the live show.
Track 12 is a beautiful waltz named after Alex's first daughter Zoey Lynn. Alex and his wife just celebrated the birth of their 2nd daughter, and I am sure both will be the inspiration for even more great music.
Moving on over to Alex's latest cd Stay All Night, the first track, Alpenade is an absolute musical masterpiece, and, with Alex's permission, I have been playing it on the www.bestpolkabands.com website for the last 2-3 months. Even more so than on Family Tradition, Stay All Night showcases what a complete master of the accordion (as well as other instruments such as the trumpet, slide trumpet, alphorn and flugelhorn) Alex Meixner is. Alex does not just play the accordion, he puts his complete heart and soul in to the task, and he manages to do things with the accordion that you would think would not be humanly possible, but he does it, and the result is incredible. The cover of the cd accomplishes showing visually the excitement and zest which comes thru on this cd, as do the many pictures of Alex in the liner notes. The graphic design on this cd keeps with the excellence of the entire project.
It was hard to pick favorites because all the songs on the cd excel in some special way, but I will do my best to explore the variety of the 22 tracks. As on Family Tradition, Meixner keeps the cd fresh by integrating a variety of sounds. Stay All Night, the title track as well as Guzevich's Fiddle Faddle introduce sounds that country fans would appreciate, and they work well on this cd. One of Meixner's own compositions, Livin' Groove, has a distinctlty jazzy sound that all jazz stations would be smart to integrate into their playlists. Of course polka plays the prominent role on this cd, with multiple fantastic songs such as Meet Me On The Midway, Tanzende Finger as well as original Alex Meixner compositions such as Donuts Polka, and Drunk Monkey Polka.
Very beautiful waltzes provide a nice musical pause to the rest of the cd. One song in particular, The Moldau, shows how versatile Meixner can be with the accordion, as he uses the instrument not only to create dynamic sounds, but extremely romantic and passionate sounds as well. Another Meixner original, I Saw A Girl Today, is a very sentimental waltz that I am sure many people can relate to completely.
The last 2 songs on the cd complement each other particularly well. Track 21, the traditional Hoe Down, is perhaps the ultimate example of how much energy Alex Meixner puts into the music he plays. By the end of the song, your heart is beating fast, and your blood is pumping to capacity. The next song, the last song on the cd, A Perfect Glow, helps you to calm down and relax as it is one of the best accordion solos I have heard in a long time, if ever. Half way thru the song, a horn of some kind enters the sound, showing how perfectly Meixner can combine his melodies and harmonies. If there are any movie producers out there, what came to my mind when I first heard this song, and then over and over again, was how perfect this song, another Alex Meixner original, would be in conveying thru the soundtrack, feelings in some very dramatic movie. All I can say is, John Williams, watch out.
In an earlier review I had done I had said that John Gora's Polka Playin' Fool should go down as a polka classic, and indeed it did win the 2010 PAC Award for Best Original Song.
Well, this year, I think a very strong condender for the award should be Ed Guca's Raise Your Glasses, with vocals and lyrics by band member Joe Banel, and which is track 3 on this album. I have now listened to this track probably over 50 times, and each time I listen I enjoy it more.
Celebrating more than 50 years in the polka arena, 2009 International Polka Assiciation Polka Hall of Fame Inductee Ed Guca released an incredible cd this past Decemeber, his 15th recording with the Polish Canadians. The cd offers 13 excellently produced and thoroughly enjoyable tracks, mostly with vocals in Polish but with a few English tracks as well.
Niech Sie Gra , the first track on the cd, and one of 4 Guca originals, starts the cd off with a bang. And this is a bang that continues throughout the whole cd. Guca also presents excellent arrangements of many traditional songs such as Z Tamtej Strony, Rano Rano, Tylko We Lwowie, Czarne Oczy, Na Polskiej Zabawie, Pod Mostem Niebieskie Oczy and White Table, and does a great cover of Li'l Wally's classic Night After Night. Once you get to the end of the cd, all you want to do is start over, and over and over again.
The graphics on this cd must also be commended and the liner notes provide very good background information on all the members that contributed to this great musical work. It must also be noted that Jerzy Krzeminski, leader of the famous Polish rock band, No To Co contributes greatly on guitar and vocals.
Released in August 2008, “Polkanceptions” is a natural progression of Mike Surratt’s critically acclaimed, 2006 CD “The Polka Element.” The incrdible thing with this cd, as with “The Polka Element,” is that every single tracks on the cd was written, produced and performed by Surratt using only an Alesis QS6.2 keyboard, Hohner accordion, & his voice. There are full bands out there that can't come close to the sound Mike can create by himself, with quite a bit of dubbing I'm sure.
Surratt provides listeners on this follow-up effort with new, all-original and sometimes unusual combinations for the quintessential American Polka roots music. Some of my favorites are: Dance Dance Dance, I Only Wanna Dance With You, Let's Polka, Pretty Lady, Your One and Only Bee, and especially track 4, In Love. There are also a number of beautiful but vibrant instrumental tracks on the cd as well. The last track expecially, Ze End, provides a beautiful calming end to the cd in 3/4 time.
Lyrically speaking I also have a few favorites. In particular, i think Hell Yeah, the 2nd track defends Polka very well:
"We had big stars before the Beatles had guitars.
We had horn riffs down before the birth of Motown.
So back off folks, we're sick of your jokes,
Quit trying to laugh us away,
We've been here all along and polkas are here to stay!"
I couldn't agree more.
If you are looking for excellent traditional style Czech music with vocals in English and Czech, look no further, this is the cd for you.
The first thing that struck me when I started listening to the cd was that this would be the perfect cd to use for background music at some cultural or folk arts festival featuring Czech culture and music. The cd is produced very nicely and is a consistent listen from beginning to end.
The recording was dedicated to the many people who have patronized the music of the Red Raven Orchestra by dancing and listening since the late 1930's to the present day and the Red Raven Orchestra's feature song, the "Let's Dance Polka" is the first track. Featured on the cd are the following outstanding musicians: Gary Berka, trumpet, trombone and vocals, Tony Pokorny, trumpet and vocals, Elmer Nemec, bass horn and vocals, Ed Svoboda Sr. on drums and Ed "Sonny" Svoboda on accordion. Ed "Sonny" Svoboda also arranged all the songs. Sit back and enjoy the sounds of the Red Raven Orchestra.
The first hit off this album I had heard not from the album but on the Wild Wilson Show www.wildwilson.com this past summer. It was track #3 on the album, Cowboy Sweetheart with vocals by Mollie Busta, USPA 2008 female vocalist of the year, yodeling action and all. I was blown away by this song and must have listened to it 50 times back to back. This is one amazing song.
The next time I came across Squeezebox they were the first band in the lineup for Jimmy Sturr's Polkapalooza on Friday Oct 16, 2009. Based on the song I had heard I was expecting a lot from this band and they delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed their show from beginning to end and was so impressed that I bought both their albums, this one and their debut album "Squeeze Me".
In the car on the way back from the show I had a long 4 hour drive and I listened beginning to end to both albums. I remember thinking that I have many greatest hits albums in my collection that have nowhere near the quality and consistency that these albums deliver.
Squeezebox covers many songs on this album, both from the polka and popular world of music, along with presenting excellent versions of many traditional songs and even an original song written by Mollie Busta. To me a good cover song is one that is better than the original and in every case where I heard Squeezebox cover a song, their version is more lively and in fact is better done than the song I previously knew.
I did some research on some of the songs. Cowboy Sweetheart was originally a county & western song. Written and first recorded in 1935 by Patsy Montana, it was the first C&W song by a female artist to sell over one million copies. Since that time it has been covered by many artists and I have heard versions done by the Dixie Chicks, Lynn Anderson, and LeAnn Rimes. No one, I repeat no-one performs the song better than Squeezebox and no-one sings the song better than Mollie Busta.
Similarly, another highlight of the album is a medley of Johnny Cash tunes that Squeezebox has put together. Specifically they do a perfect blend of three of his songs, Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues, which are probably Johnny Cash's 3 biggest songs. I have always had an appreciation for those songs, but Squeezebox brings them to a new level of enjoyment. This medley is so good it is possible I have listened to it over 100 times, though of course I wasn't counting.
Another of my favorites is the last track on the album is an excellent version of Sheb Wooley's "I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore". There are many versions of the song out there but this version is undoubtedly the absolute best.
I haven't stated awarding stars yet to albums, but if I was, on a scale of 1 to 5 this would definitely be a 5 star album. I can hardly wait to see what Squeezebox will come out with next but whatever it is it will be hard to top what they have already accomplished with their first 2 albums. Get both of them. You will not be disappointed. Also be sure to visit their website www.squeezeboxband.com .
Happy Birthday Tom Brusky. Tom just turned 40 back in November . And to commemorate this milestone he has released a new album which although somewhat unique is thoroughly a pleasure to listen to and excellently produced. Joining along with Tom on this cd are also many of the biggest names in today's polka world, including Don Hunjadi, Eric Noltkamper, Dan Wojtila, Kathy Zamejc Vogt, Steve Meisner, Dan Tutsch and Ron VanDenboom.
When you first listen to the album, don't let the first song throw you off. Brusky gives you a sample of the first cassette he had produced back in 1989. As he himself writes "I released my first recording, Song of Lecco, exactly 20 years ago. At the time, my skills as a musician were rather negligible and my recording equipment was rather crude, so I thought it would be interesting to include a snippet from that recording on this CD. So please don't cringe when you hear the first track! It is only to help demostrate how far I've come along in the last twenty years."
I actually do like the melody of that first track, and would be interested to know if Brusky has re-recorded it or has plans to re-record it.
There are 3 waltzes on the album that I particularly enjoyed. Laendler in A Flat, arranged by both Jim Brusky and Tom Brusky contains beautiful harmonies and brings back memories of the Sound of Music. Blue Dancing Shoes, with an extremely strong vocal from Dan Vojita brings me memories of The Blus Skirt Waltz and is an outstanding listen. Play From The Heart (which I think should become a Christmas staple in polka musician families) is a Brusky original which is based accoding to his liner notes on a true story, that of his father. He had asked his own parents for a new sled for Christmas, but instead of a sled they surprised him with an accordion. Of course the rest, even for the next generation down, is history. I have listened to these 3 waltzes at least 20 times each now and each time I listen they sound better and better, which is the best sign of a great song.
Brusky also pays tribute to Milwaukee's Polka King, Louis Bashell, who was born July 1, 1914, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a family that had recently emigrated from Slovenia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and later became known as Milwaukee's Polka King. Bashell passed away slightly more than a year ago on December 17, 2008. I am sure that Brusky's tribute song "Louis Our Polka King" will result in many people, including myself, discovering the great music that Bashell spent a lifetime creating.
Another of my favourites (well, let's face it, they're all great) is the Swingin' Sinatra Medley which is an outstanding mix of 3 Sinatra classics, Let's Get Away From It All, The Way You Look Tonight and Fly Me To The Moon. The sound quality here is as good or better than anything I have ever heard from Sinatra or any of the other people who have covered him in the past, so I was astounded to hear that according to Brusky's liner notes "the drums and bass in the Swingin' Sinatra Medley are real, but the rest of the instumentation was painstakingly performed in real time (without the aid of a computer) on a single keyboard patched into several MIDI sound modules." I swear, it actually sounds like a 20 piece big band, which is testament to Brusky's abilities as a producer. Also, I should note here that the vocals are done by Steve Meisner, another polka king, and who sounds better covering Sinatra than almost Sinatra himelf.
Brusky even delves into the Latin flavor with track 4, "Let's Go Dancin' Darlin'". According tho the liner notes it is "a heartwarming song about an elderly man who reminisces about dancing with his wife back in the 1950's. Though not nearly as graceful and nimble as he once was , he asks his wife, who he still adores, for one more dance."
The term last but not least definitely applies to the final track on the cd, The Cleveland-Style Polka Medley. This is an absolutely perfect cover medley of 12 songs all of which blend seamlessly. Brusky recorded the song in tribute to the pioneers of the style, the composers who wrote the songs found in the medley itself and to musicians who continue to write polkas and waltzes to this day. Having been a DJ myself for over 20 years, I can also note that this is the perfect catalog addition to any DJ who occasionally needs to take a bathroom break. Put on this medley and your guests will be entertained for 16 minutes while you can go take care of your business.
There is one more note I should make. I was so impressed with the production quality of this album that when I saw in Tom Brusky's website that he also does mastering work for other bands, I have made a note to contact Tom about possibly doing the mastering on some future DJ Companion Records cds that I produce.
Talking about the future, now that 40 years have passed I can't wait to see what Tom Brusky does in the next 40. By the way, he has already promised that assuming his health holds out to the year 2049 when he turns 80, he will release "The Second Forty Years" in VHD (Virtual Holographic Datastream) format. Tom Brusky, here's to the next 40 years.
Polka Playin' Fool is John Gora's 8th album and it is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. The album consists of a variety of songs both in English and Polish and on one song there is even a bit of French thrown in. Every song on the album is very good and some are truly great.
The title track Polka Playin' Fool starts the album off with a bang and in my opinion should become a polka classic. As well, for those of you who are into videos, Dan Gury has on Youtube put a very nice lighthearted video to this song at
I have also linked that video to the John Gora band listing at www.bestpolkabands.com .
Some of my other favorites are Out Behind The Barn, featuring vocals by Ted Lange and Daddy's Hands, sung by Mollie Busta who has been honored as the IPA Female Singer of the Year. Listen to her sing and you'll know very quickly why she received that honor. Halleluyah is a very stong cover of the Leonard Cohen classic. My favorite waltz on the album though is an original John Gora composition Dudni Woda Dudni.
Another of my favorites on this album is a medley of 3 songs, "Melody of Love", first made famous by Bobby Vinton, then continuing with the classic "You Are My Sunshine" and ending with a traditional French Canadian folk song for which I am not sure of the exact title but it contains the main line "All The Strawberries, Raspberries, Good Wine That I Drank". The 3 songs fit and blend together perfectly and this was one medley I was listening to over and over and over again. Probably about the 15th time I played it I probably would say the 3rd and final song both grew on me and became my favorite of the 3.
I must also commend John Gora and/or his graphic designers for the excellent packaging and design of this cd. Too many polka cds don't go the extra step, as this one did, of creating not just excellent music but also an attractive package for the purchaser of the cd. To purchase this cd go to John Gora's website www.johngora.com .
Daj Mi Buzi is the fourth release from Tom Mroczka and The Music Box and I would say it is their best. This cd also contains the vocal talents of Nicole Cuglewski and her voice gives the album a whole new dimension. Nicole has come to be known as the "Daj Mi Buzi" girl after he appearance on the TV Show "Deal Or No Deal" where she succeeded in getting the show's host Howie Mandell to kiss her not once but twice. She was also one of the shows more successful contestants and cashed out with 247,000.
Getting back to the music however, Daj Mi Buzi is a very conistent and exciting album from start to finish. From the second you hear Nicole exclaim "Zosia" at the start of the first song you know this is going to be an entusiastic fun filled album with lots of surprises. My absolute favorites are tracks 1 (Zosia Polka), the title track, #2, (Daj Mi Buzi Give Me A Kiss Polka), track 3 (Happy Louie Polka Medley) - I like medleys as you may have noticed from other cds I have reviewed, track 8 (What's So Funny Polka), track 10 (Who Stole The Kiszka Polka) and track 11(The Happy Wanderer Polka).
The album even contains a bonus track, which is a beautiful rendition of Lee Greenwoods "God Bless The USA" sung by Nicole. It is the perfect ending to a fantastic cd. To order your own copy go to http://www.themusicboxtmb.com .
For those few of you who may not be familiar with the Polkaholics, I must warn you. This is NOT your daddy's (or grandpa's) typical polka cd. This is a rock-sounding cd with some far-removed polka (and waltz) beats, some would even call it punk, but I think what they have done is great. Wally is the 6th cd released by the Polkholics and one of the few cds in the polka genre (though there are many in other genres) that has a conistent theme and story throughout (hence the name Opera). And they certainly do carry on, in their own words, the polka "tradition of do-it-yourself fun and good times."
Wally refers to Li'l Wally (August 1, 1930 – August 17, 2006), who was one of the top Polish-American polka musicians from Chicago. Although he had lots of hits, his most famous song was probably "No Beer In Heaven". Other hits included "I Wish I Was Single Again.", "Li'l Wally Twirl," "Johnny's Knockin'," "She Likes Kielbasa," "Seven Days and Seven Nights," "Take Me Baby," "Chicago Is a Polka Town," "Lichtensteiner Polka," "Two Bucks Polka," and "To Be in Love With Someone." Walter "Li'l Wally" Jagiello was renowned for his drumbeats and slower, more danceable tempo, which became a mainstay of "Chicago Style" Polish polka sound. His nickname was derived from his relatively short height (5 foot 6), especially during his youth, when he often stood on a picnic table to sing. He appeared several times on The Lawrence Welk Show, and was one of the first two inductees into the International Polka Association's Hall of Fame in 1969. In total, he collected 17 gold and 4 platinum records. In his later years, he retired to Miami Beach, Florida, but continued to perform and record nationwide. Li'l Wally died in 2006 in Florida at the age of 76.
The Polkaholics have taken the story of Li'l Wally and present it in a series of songs that pay tribute to his life from beginning to end.
The first 3 songs on the cd ("Son Of A Gun", "Caldwell Woods" and "Teacher") pay tribute to L'il Wally's childhood. I think that "Teacher" could easily be a good addition to a list of other school anthems such as the Ramone's "Rock & Roll High School, Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2" - ie. We don't need no education, and Brownsville Station/Motley Crue's "Smokin' In The Boys Room". Caldwell Woods refers to Chicago's northside district where Walter Jagiello grew up, and where as a boy he began singing with polka bands.
The next 3 songs document L'il Wally's rise to fame and is highlighted by a very imaginative interpretation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" in this case replaced by "L'il Wally Superstar". The song ""Division Street refers to that part of Chicago referred to as "Polish Broadway". "Polish Broadway was the strip of Division Street between Ashland and Western where from the 40's to the late 60's Polish polka artists performed nightly in the many gin joints that lined the strip, and where it was that L'il Wally rose to fame.
The second half of the cd covers L'il Wally's later retirement to Florida with songs such as "Miami Beach" , "Sea And Sand" and "I Miss Chicago Again". The Polkaholics had brought him back to Chicago for a number of shows prior to his death in 2006. Two of the songs in this latter half are interpretations of L'il Wally's own compositions. "I Miss Chicago Again" comes from L'il Wally's own hit "Wish I Was Single Again" and "Zakopane Waltz" comes from the "Lucky Stop Waltz". "Miami Beach" should become an anthem, in my opinion, for, well, Miami Beach. Of course, "The Day The Polka Died" is about L'il Wally's own passing and the song evokes memories of the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper died in 1959, often referred to as the day that music died.
I am hoping (as I am sure are the Polkaholics too) that not only does this album become a big hit, but also that this music brings new legions of fans to the music of L'il Wally and polka in general. Just a few other notes: I think the artwork on this cd is incredible, one of the best I have seen in a while and it fits in perfectly with the theme of the cd. Also, when you get to the end of the cd, don't stop because there is a hidden 13th track. I had asked Don Hedeker, who heads up the Polkaholics about the 13th track and this is what he had to say: "That is a "hidden track" called "If Johnny Met Wally." It's about a fictional meeting of Johnny Thunders (my (ie. Don Hedeker's) favorite guitar player - and really our sound is kind of like a combination of Johnny Thunders and Li'l Wally) and Li'l Wally, and it was actually the first song that I wrote for this Wally project. However, after recording the other songs, it just didn't seem to fit well with the story line, and so we decided not to include it in the polka-rock opera. But since we did record it, we thought it might be fun to include it as a hidden track. so that's the long and short of it. "