Recommended Albums #87

Brave Combo: A Night On Earth (1990)

I grew up, more or less, on classic rock and bubblegum pop. Then Brave Combo saved me.

There’s nothing wrong with classic rock, as I’m sure you’d agree. And there’s nothing wrong with saccharin pop either, as I’m less sure you’d agree.

But there’s a risk, as you reach a certain age, in succumbing to taste lock, which I’d define as a loss of elasticity of musical appreciation.

Like older bodies often don’t stretch unless there’s a concerted effort to make them stretch, our music appreciation can be, uh, hamstrung by an unwillingness to broaden our palette beyond what we’ve always liked.

Although I came to love many types of pop and rock from a young age–from hard rock to progressive to folk to British Invasion to 70’s singer-songwriters to recently-labeled “yacht rock”, it was all pretty much guitar-based music.

Then a CD handed down from my older brother changed all that.

Brave Combo’s A Night On Earth opened my ears to music that was led by a clarinet…an accordion…a saxophone (and not the toothless, smarmy Kenny G kind).

The guitar in Brave Combo’s music–band leader Carl Finch’s guitar– was often just keeping the rhythm. The leads were given over to instruments less often associated with rock and pop.

And the songs were nothing short of a concise musical tour of the world.

In a sense, my appreciation for music is divided into pre-Brave Combo and post-Brave Combo eras, because ever since they smashed open my brain I am able to listen to almost anything without prejudice; without the instrumentation being an impediment. I’m open to all styles of music since coming to love this band, since hearing this album in particular.

A Night On Earth was the equivalent in musical terms to the moment Dorothy opens her front door to see full-color Oz replacing bleak, black-and-white Kansas.

Mind you I hadn’t grown up under a rock. I’d been exposed to classical music. And jazz. But I appreciated them as something other than “my” music.

Brave Combo was a rock band. In fact, they almost seemed a punk band. I mean, I’ve never heard a polka as subversive as “Do Something Different”.

Yes, I said “polka”.

If that frightens you then I should warn you this album contains hora, tango, traditional Italian music, Afro-Cuban salsa, Brazilian choro, and Tex-Mex.

It’s all over the place. But it’s not “World Music” in the Peter Gabriel sense.

Although World Music maven David Byrne hired Brave Combo to entertain at his wedding, these guys don’t treat non-Western musical styles with reverence

They attack them with a vengeance.

There is no purism or musical snootery here. It’s just party music played with daring and consummate skill in styles representing the world over.

It might not take on first listen. I confess that the CD I received from my older brother ended up in the hands of my younger brother–until I visited him in New York a couple years later and he happened to put it on and all that clarinet-led goodness finally sunk in with me.

I asked for it back.

Then I never missed a Brave Combo album release or concert opportunity for the next two decades.

Since the departure of Bubba Hernandez the band has become more of a polkacentric affair. But this classic lineup, with Bubba playing bass, singing the Spanish-language tunes and keeping the Latin sounds to the fore, offered the greatest musical diversity.

This is the band that saved me from taste lock.

Listen to: “A Night On Earth”

Listen to: “Don’t Ever Dance With Maria”

Listen to: “Do Something Different”

Listen to: “Dulcecita”

Listen to: “Laura”

Listen to: “Linda Guerita”

Listen to: “Saxophone, Why Do You Weep?”

See also:

See also:

Songs You May Have Missed #525


Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Brave Combo: “Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl)” (2001)

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer team with the world’s most versatile band (the fact that Brave Combo played at David Byrne’s wedding speaks to their credentials in that regard) on a most remarkable children’s song.

“Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl)” tells of a creatively frustrated chef whose young patrons are only interested in a single menu item. Fittingly, the song is arranged as a twist. And the lyric is an absolute hoot.

See also:

See also:

Recommended Albums #32


Brave Combo: It’s Christmas, Man! (1991)

There doesn’t seem to be a single kind of music that Brave Combo can’t play, from polkas (in several languages) to rock, ska, hora, cha chas, rhumbas, salsa, samba, merengue, tango, even Japanese folk songs. This not only makes them a pretty engaging live act but makes for a festive holiday album. On It’s Christmas, Man! they definitely spike the eggnog, rendering familiar classics with a new beat, and mixing in some lighthearted originals, like the Tex-Mex¬†‘Christmas in July’:

Who says Christ was a Capricorn?/Maybe He perhaps was born/On the hottest Sunday of the year

His birthday might have been the time to be/On the beach at Galilee/Watching Him change water into beer

They’d have a Christmas, a summer Christmas/You’d-see-the-Lord-could-surf-without-a-surfboard Christmas

Could it be possible?/Check out the Gospel/This year let’s have Christmas in July

They not only have a way with words, but fare pretty well when they do away with words, as a snazzy, jazzy little ‘Frosty the Snowman’ shows. ‘Feliz Navidad’ as a cumbia? ‘Must be Santa’ as a polka? Why not? Christmas, among other things, is party time.

Listen to: “Must be Santa”

Listen to: “The Christmas Song”

Listen to: “Christmas in July”

Listen to: “Frosty the Snowman”

Listen to: “Feliz Navidad”

See also:

See also:

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