Jimmy Sturr,
Touched By a Polka
(Rounder, 2000)

My husband and I are wondering why polka has not yet seemed to benefit from the growing interest in world musical styles. It's so much fun to listen to, obviously great to dance to, and the musicianship is usually excellent. We have two theories: either enough people heard polka growing up that they still associate it with old fogies, or its persistent cheer is offputting to those impressed by angst. I wish more people would give it a chance; the more I hear it, the more I like it, and I think it deserves to participate in the world music resurgence.

In Touched By a Polka, Grammy-winning Jimmy Sturr includes a wide range of music in the polka tradition, with many of the vocals provided by country singer Mel Tillis. Musically, it's a demonstration of the way a particular rhythmic thread connects many popular musical styles, including Cajun, Celtic, Western swing, Tejano and Polish polka.

The Celtic/polka crossover is the most fascinating conceptually, and marvelous to hear. "St. Patty's Polka Medley" blends four Irish folk songs sung by Irish singer Dermot O'Brien into a seamless whole, combining distinct and traditional Celtic melodies with a classic polka sound.

The Cajun-polka song, "Thibodeaux and His Cajun Band," is a standout on this great album. I particularly likes some of the musical riffs between verses, like the ragtime piano.

County music adapts well to a polka beat. "If You've Got The Money, I've Got the Time" is a fun song about going out to a honky-tonk for an evening's fun. "San Antonio Rose" takes a polka perspective on Western swing.

There's classic polka here, too. "Tic Toc" is a polka standard, nicely sung by Tillis, about polka dancing. "If I Could Catch a Rainbow," written by Sturr, is lively and romantic. "Don't Cry Daddy" has lyrics in Polish and a minor key, sounding a lot like some of the classic polkas I grew up hearing in the Midwest. One can hear the connection with klezmer clearly. And the last song on the CD, "Time Changes Everything," emphasizes a message about recovering from a lost love with polka's cheer.

The instrumental pieces like "Melody," "Sunrise" and "Come Polka With Us" allow the musicians a chance to show off their skill as the featured players alternate in a way similar to blues and jazz. ("Sunrise" is actually an oberek; I can see I have some learning to do in this genre.)

The one non-polka on this album, "Little Girl of Mine," is a touching song in a waltz form, sung by a father to his grown-up daughter. It sounds ideal for a father-daughter dance at a wedding.

This is an excellent album, and not just for serious polka fans. It will increase the appreciation of polka in anyone who hears it, or who is willing to give it a chance. The consistent theme and the diverse styles make it interesting to listen to, and the musicianship is superb. If you're prepared to give polka a chance, this is the album for you!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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