Reede, 27 Juuli 2018 08:43
Estonian Life No. 30 2018
One of my all time favourite category-defying bands is Trout Fishing in America. The name already gives it away – they took their name from the title of a peculiar countercultural novel by Richard Brautigan. The slimster challenges anyone to read the book. And not laugh uproariously during the experience.
Trout Fishing in America claims to provide “music for people who take their fun seriously.” Well, they have a worthy equal on the musical stage – Toronto’s own Polka Dogs. They have been around for a quarter century or more, though not always present in the public eye. Unique, certainly, consider that there is probably no other performing group in the world that is comprised of banjo, accordion, tuba, trombone and drums. Our own Tiina Kiik is the accordionist, heard most recently with Roosi Lindau during Estonian Music Week. At that time the slender one was able to score a copy of Polka Dogs’ brand new CD The Bee. As a humourous aside Jaymz Bee, leader of the Royal Jelly Orchestra, JazzFM91.1 radio figure was not only at Sassafraz, where Tiina was playing, but prominent throughout EMW.
The leader of Polka Dogs is composer/producer/banjoist/lyricist/vocalist John Millard. A musical genius in the slim one’s opinion, with a sly wit with words. Millard is responsible for all but one composition here. Colin Couch is on tuba, the oompah instrument that truly makes any band, brass or otherwise, just as no choir is complete without a true basso profundo. Couch is a genuine master, laying down a superb bass/rhythm line without taking over any song. Tom Walsh, responsible for one of the most fun compositions on the CD (and that is a compliment!), the tango flavoured The Bells, with Tiina’s accordion intro setting the mood, is on trombone, yet again a key instrument. Walsh’s solos on his own composition are exquisite. Drummer Ambrose Pottie, a wonderful brautiganesque name, really, rounds out the ensemble.
One of the most important complements to any recording is a lyrics booklet. This was an advantage provided with the advent of the CD age. While some precious few vinyl albums printed lyrics on the sleeve, it was a rarity, for the sleeve with its artwork is meant to capture attention as well as add to the appeal of the entire package. While the ear is good at capturing vocals, the brain competent enough to memorize favourites after repeated listening, reading the lyrics adds much to the experience. My rule of thumb is to do a first listen, second time around follow the printed work. Double the pleasure.
Capriccio is an Italian musical term, meaning a composition of lively and spirited mood. In a nutshell this captures the work of Polka Dogs. The Italians emphasized fanciful irregularity in this form, almost as a musical prank. This comes close to the whimsy, fanciful and certainly witty tunes found on the disc, of differing styles. The ability to hop from tempo to tempo, though always upbeat and full of elation and joy is a delightful skill expressed by the band.
There are 13 cuts on the CD and one is hard pressed to, other than the aforementioned The Bells to pick one over another, or single them out for any one quality. Clever lyrics, toe-tapping arrangements abound. In keeping with the prankster theme the lean one wondered how Millard chose the sequence of the CD. Random selection would have been fun, alas this only works on my ancient 5-disc player when more than one CD is trayed. Perhaps there is technology out there to enable further scrambling of an enjoyable musical experience.
Polka Dogs provide a non-pareil escape from the mundane. Precisely the intent of good music. The world is much too serious; we have too many genres that are depressing whether in the classical world or the hurtin’ country blues. Thank the Lord for the Nanabushes of quirkiness; masters of caprice who know that without experimentation based on fun life would not be worth living. A definite must-get, a great eclectic and uplifting addition to any collection.OTEPÄÄ SLIM