Dan Newton’s Café Accordion Orchestra’s On Holiday: A Musical Cruise; and Dan Newton’s La Vie Musette

cover, La Vie MusetteMike Stiles wrote this review.

Here are two CDs that had this reviewer reaching for the escargot and absinthe. The Café Accordion Orchestra has preserved a style of squeezebox playing that richly deserves remembering for its historically pervasive folk character. This group uses short arrangements (2-4 minutes per song) but manages to get both group and solo efforts out in most cases. The presentations of the songs are rather conventional, albeit well done. Their approach is akin to that of mariachi bands, samba ensembles, or street venues of New Orleans.

On Holiday carries the full orchestra. Dan Newton, spiritual leader of the band, plays accordion and keyboards and carries the lead vocals when they are called for. Joining him are Joe Steinger (percussion), Gordy Abel (bass), Brian Barnes (guitar, vocal), and Eric Mohring (violin, mandolin, vocal).

This collection has a world folk orientation, drawing on traditions in France, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the US. The full effect of the orchestra really comes through, starting with some French waltzing on “Paris Musette.” The set includes a couple of jazzy swing numbers: “Crazy Rhythm” with its excellent mandolin solo from Eric, and “Knock Me a Kiss” where Eric knocks out some great violin. I especially liked the group’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the smarm of the bolero song “What a Difference a Day Makes.” To round things out, we get a foxtrot (“Angry”), a tango (“Ren Tin Tin”), and some rhumba (“Forro in F”).

La Vie Musette is a side-trip with a smaller complement, featuring Dan Newton on accordion and piano, Tom Lewis and Erik Lillestol trading off on bass, and Joe Steinger hanging out on percussion. The collection on this CD does a spot-on job with the sounds of early twentieth century Parisian sidewalk life. “Charmeur de Serpent” is naughty flapper-era ragtime piece. The band maintains its flair for variety of musical styles, featuring “Ampersand,” a waltz, “Adios Seville”, which is straight from la cirque, “Nathalie S’en Va,” a Latin-flavored ballad, the tango “Julius et Margaret,” and the “Polka Deux Cheveaux.”

Ah well, the escargots are all slurped down, the bottle of absinthe is empty, and this review draws to a close. Little friends call to me from the empty escargot shells, beckoning me to join them. Hey, why not? That’ll be the next best thing to a bistro in this town where I live.

(Café Accordion Orchestra, 1999)
(Café Accordion Orchestra, 2002)

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