Jimmy Sturr,
Gone Polka
(Rounder, 2001)

Gone Polka is not the album to begin your exploration of polka. If you're curious about polka, I recommend Brave Combo; their Polkas for a Gloomy World is pure polka, but with the touch of irony that makes it more approachable for the polka novice.

That said, Gone Polka is a wonderful album for polka fans! Jimmy Sturr has again brought together a variety of styles of polka. While a little less broad a range this time, he has more fun with it -- including Willie Nelson doing vocals on four of the songs and Brenda Lee on two. The thirteen songs are mostly vocal (with two in Polish), and four instrumental tracks.

My favorite song, hands down, is "Ricochet Polka" with Brenda Lee's singing a perfect match for the catchy music and lyrics on a subject more common to country music: the philandering man. "I don't want a ricochet romance," she sings, "...if you're careless with your kisses, find another turtledove." I can't stop humming this one! It's followed by another brush-off song with the genders reversed, this one sung by Willie Nelson and almost as good.

I also enjoy "Hop Scotch Polka," which takes some Scottish tunes you'll recognize, sets them to a polka beat, and sails through them with stunning musicianship.

Country fans will either giggle or be outraged by Willie Nelson's reprising of "On the Road Again" as a polka. I loved it. He also does wonders with the sentimental "Waltz Across Texas Waltz," and the polka version of the classic "Yellow Rose of Texas" makes me wonder what Emily Dickenson's poetry would sound like as polkas. (It's said that all of her poetry can be sung to this tune, and it does work with the ones I've tried.)

I love polkas in minor keys, like "Near the Town (Kolo Miasta) Polka." The Cajun "Big Mamou Polka" is another song that adds a different sound to the album. And it ends with an intriguing piece -- "Sing Sing Sing," more swing than polka and with a strong jazz sound.

The liner notes don't include lyrics, which is a shame, but the notes on Sturr's music and career are interesting and informative, and well worth reading.

If you like polka, and want to hear some great polka songs, Gone Polka gets my strongest recommendation. It's an excellent album in its own right, and would make a good transition to a more classic sound if Brave Combo and the like have intrigued you. If you're not sure whether you like polka yet, though, try something else first. Jimmy Sturr is strong stuff. He knows what he's doing, and does it superbly. I'll be adding more of his albums to my collection.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001

Buy it from Amazon.com.