Formed by Denton, Texas homeboy Carl Finch in 1979, Brave Combo are witty and wise purveyors (and perverters) of polkas and musics of many nations. A highly successful tour of local mental institutions honed their chops, and each record reveals an ever more adventurous and itinerant package of sounds. By exploring and exploiting the least hip music on god’s green earth — the polka — Finch and Co. demonstrate that everything most people know about pop music is wrong.
The aptly titled debut album, Music for Squares, finds them grinding out polka, cha-cha, twist, waltz and tango standards and originals with rockish energy. On World Dance Music they began to take rock standards, such as the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” and twist them into weird ethnic shapes (such as the Romanian hora). You’ll hear an African-ska version of a Perez Prado hit, as well as the usual assortment of cumbias, norteñas, schottisches and, of course, polkas. “If we missed your part of the world,” suggests the cover, “please check future releases.”
The live No Sad Faces contains an unforgettable “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” a cha-cha version of “O Holy Night,” a ska take on “Little Bit of Soul” and much more. The Musical Varieties compilation is an excellently produced and generous introduction to the band which sets the stage for Polkatharsis, the Combo’s brave return to its roots. They play hardball with eleven polkas — from “Happy Wanderer” to “Who Stole the Kishka” — on this all-trad collection, adding a couple of sweet waltzes and a schottische.
Like their European (conceptual) cousins 3 Mustaphas 3, the Combo has evolved from being merely a good joke into a fine band. On Humansville, the playing is tighter, the originals are serious (space is important, money isn’t everything) and the conceits seem less forced. That’s maturity for you.
Guaranteeing plenty of smiles, A Night on Earth follows the Brave Combo on another delightfully capricious stylistic smorgasbord (in English, Spanish and instrumental Italian) of witty originals (like the anti-complacency “Do Something Different”) and a smooth cover of “Hey There” (Rosemary Clooney et al.). Imagine if these guys made a record with Kid Creole…