Various Artists

Accordion Conjunto Champs

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Since most (though not all) of these 21 conjunto tracks were previously issued on Arhoolie CDs and LPs, this has the dual purpose of serving as a sampler of Arhoolie's conjunto catalog and -- because Arhoolie has been one of the most active labels in documenting conjunto -- a good overview of conjunto music itself. As the title lets you know, the accordion figures prominently in all of the selections, which includes some well-known legends of the genre (Narciso Martinez, Flaco Jimenez, Santiago Jimenez, Santiago Jiminez Jr., Esteban "Steve" Jordan) and several performers who'll be known only to conjunto aficionados. Because this spans several decades of recordings, and draws from numerous artists playing in various subgenres of this Tex-Mex style -- basing their songs on polkas, mazurkas, ranchera waltzes, cancion, danzon, cumbia, and other approaches -- it's a more interesting and varied survey of the music than listeners will get through single-artist anthologies. It's true that more information (particularly on original recording and release dates) could have been supplied in the skeletal liner notes, though these at least point curious listeners toward books and films that go into the world of conjunto in more depth. For all its scope, the alternately peppy and melancholy melodies of these accordion conjuntos can still sound pretty similar in mood taken all at once, with some of the wider detours from the usual format (like Paulino Bernal's "Cuando Bebo," which has mournful close female harmonies from Carmen & Laura) supplying welcome spice. One of the tracks, Fred Zimmerle's "Al Cortar una Gardenia," was previously unreleased.

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