It takes a brave combo indeed to perform the eclectic repertoire that Brave Combo delivered Monday night at Joe’s Pub.
Then again, they’re not named Brave Combo for nothing. Polka, klezmer, a Greek war dance, a country classic, tango and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”—all were played before a roomful of delirious Brave Combo-nistas, prompting veteran rock scribe Billy Altman to declare, to unanimous approval, that the current grouping of the venerable band from Denton, Texas could well be its best.
New accordionist Ginny Mac, obviously, plays no small role, plying her big piano accordion with aplomb, and also evoking the gutsy vocal of June Carter Cash on popular Polish polka “Hosa Dyna Polka,” which she sang, of course, in Polish. Her accordion play afforded bandleader/founder Carl Finch, who also plays accordion, more time at the piano and lead guitar.
Finch came out in his traditional silver jacket and red hat, both of which he removed after the third song–by which time the onstage heat had gotten to everyone. The first was a particularly gutsy choice, “At The Rabbi’s Table,” a lively klezmer tune.
But new album Sounds Of The Hollow‘s “Baby, Baby, Baby, Don’t” really drove home the extent of Brave Combo’s boldness. Finch had first heard the Italian folk song on a cassette, performed by a Vietnamese singer in French to a Latin beat, he explained. The band then took the arrangement, wrote new lyrics and tagged the Russian song “Dark Eyes” at the end.
Clarinetist Jeffrey Barnes, who also played sax and harmonica and introed one polka number with the opening of “Rhapsody In Blue,” did a Dixieland-inflected job on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”; Finch started the Brave Combo classic “Flying Saucer” with a dainty cocktail piano bit, then kicked it up to its regular high energy polka level.
It was Mac’s first time in New York, and she took another seductive star turn with a mambo take on the French pop song “The Way Of Love.” As Elvis Presley was one of many to have sung it, Finch shouted out “Elvis Presley” and the band shifted into “Love Me Tender.”
Finch had brought along Brave Combo’s full six-piece grouping to the gig, also including Danny O’Brien on trumpet and vocals (he also took a Jew’s harp solo), drummer Alan Emert and bassist Little Jack Melody. But the Six Fat Dutchmen this wasn’t: They even briefly added a seventh player, accordion virtuoso Guy Klucevsek, who has recorded with Brave Combo and came out to play “Prairie Dogs,” with Finch picking up a small accordion in creating a three-accordion frontal attack.
The show closed with the much-covered Rhodesian song “Skokiaan,” which was a hit for Bill Haley. Finch played beautiful African-styled guitar, whistled, scatted and mouth-popped, and broke into “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
The only thing missing was a presentation of some sort of medal of valor, for Brave Combo’s most courageous set.
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