Polka Haunt Us Recording Delivers Spook-tacularly
by Frank DiCostanzo
After listening to Veronique Chevalier's "Polka Haunt Us," one wonders how something so devilish can indeed sound so heavenly. My mortal ears were scintillated in ways I never could have imagined. Supported by the elegant production work of Jann Castor, this single-themed compilation is just oozing with originality and sophistication.
It all works to compliment the creative lyrics and showmanship of the mastermind behind the songs themselves. Chevalier weaves together her imaginative lyrics with thirteen spooky folktales and fables from around the world, giving each song a unique historio-cultural orientation.
Of course, one can just sit back and listen to this Wonka-esque boat-ride of musical delights, oblivious to any folkloric inspiration. The music's impact alone is enough to keep you at the edge of your coffin.
A quirky yet dynamic concept album, both Halloween- and polka-inspired, "Polka Haunt Us" brings together a talented menagerie of world-renowned musicians, from Lili Haydn (the Jimi Hendrix of violin), to UCLA percussion instructor, Kirk Brundage, to Norwegian soprano, Elisabeth Ekornes.
And the list hardly stops here. Also featured are 2007 Polka Grammy Nominee Alex Meixner; virtuoso accordionist, Gee Rabe, vocalist/actress Marion Ramsey (Sgt. Laverne Hooks of Police Academy film lore), and accomplished "world" guitarist, Goh Kurosawa, to name just a few of the sixteen artists brought together by chaunteuse extraordinaire, Veronique Chevalier.
Even those familiar with Chevalier's penchant for the outrageous will be impressed with the generosity—and grandiosity—of this truly potent witch's brew of a record. Take the Afterwife Polka Tango, a track inspired by Eva Peron's publicly displayed corpse (with music composed by Mike Surratt):
"Evita's husband that Juan Peron Embalmed her in a fancy tomb of her own So he was prepared in the afterlife To have himself a trophy after-wife"
This sets up Eva as the perfect contrast to dead wives who now haunt their cheap, ungrateful husbands from beyond—and at times out of—the grave: "If you hadn't buried me in that cheap casket, I'd still have all of my original skin left."
Then there's Devil's Guitar, based on a purely American myth about a young man called Lazy Billy who discovers a guitar (possibly belonging to legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson). However, the guitar is a snare set by the Devil as Billy ultimately, and comically, plays himself to death: "On and on poor Billy played, his fingers bloody stumps / Then he knew he'd been betrayed, the Devil always trumps."
This sort of pointed satire is typical of Chevalier's vaudevillian style and slapstick candor, but "Polka Haunt Us" moves beyond the boundaries of satirical lyric-based music.
Tracks like Blank Face Goblins and Strange Faces in the Floor launch the listener almost without warning into the realm of the experimental. Yet it is experimental in the traditional sense, artfully combining styles of music seemingly disparate, while calling on themes and soundscapes of more popular music forms.
Add to this subtle, interspersed vocal arrangements (notably Strange Faces and Kalkajaka Polka) along with highly-crafted sampling and noise manipulation (Polka Haunt Us), and the album truly paints Chevalier as a 21st-century iconoclast at her best.
I look forward to whatever future achievements lie in store for the ambitious Chevalier. "Polka Haunt Us" has a robust, if not grotesque charm, making it a true masterpiece of the bizarre. I find it a consummate compilation, worth cherishing for many full moons to come.
Frank DiCostanzo is a writer, musician, and entrepreneur. His company, Messina Editorial Group, specializes in book editing, writer coaching, and multimedia consulting. Visit him at: http://MessinaEditorialGroup.com