Polkapalooza

Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra

album cover

The Sound of Beer

Jimmy Sturr provides whatever it is polka people need—hot tunes, boisterous beats, a little humor—when they gather in hotel ballrooms and church basements to do their thing. There's camp involved, sure. And chutzpah. Sturr, who formed his first band when he was eleven and has been recording since the '60s, is an example of an artist working a cliché until it's cool—whenever hipsters get around to embracing polka, he'll be there, cranking out the spinning dances some consider "the sound of beer."

On this, his 101st album, clarinetist and arranger Sturr and his polished band play the traditional two-stepping stuff with great aplomb—it is, after all, their meat and potatoes. (For proof, see the version of "Pennsylvania Polka," sung by Johnny Karas. It's timeless.) But as the kooky title of this disc demonstrates, Sturr recognizes the value of showbiz; he lets accordionist Gene Bartkiewicz or fiddler Frankie Urbanovitch steal the spotlight with jaw-dropping displays of virtuosity that are the polka equivalent of the ten-minute arena-rock drum solo. And Sturr reaches beyond the oompah a few times, most boldly when he invites the great Mexican accordionist Flaco Jiménez to guest on the sizzling instrumental "Bayou Pon Pon." This is anything but trying-to-get-paid polka. This is totally assured dance music, made by curious musicians intent on spreading joy as far and wide as possible.

Genre: Country
Released: 1999, Rounder
Key Tracks: "Pennsylvania Polka," "Bayou Pon Pon," "Polka Fever," "Lovers Waltz"
Catalog Choice: Dance with Me
Next Stop: Frankie Yankovic: I Wish I Was Eighteen Again
After That: Brave Combo: Polkas for a Gloomy World
Book Pages: 752–753

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