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Flaco Jimenez returns to his roots as the self-proclaimed Squeeze Box King in his self-produced album - a first for him - of the same name, playing polkitas, cumbias, and waltzes with the traditional combination of accordion-bass-drum that has accompanied him for more than a half century.

I've always considered Jimenez, as someone who crossed pop music with conjunto, to be at his finest performing traditional music. Here, the songs are in the same style as those from his old Arhoolie recordings - there are none of the fancy guitar solos or incongruous overdubs which marred his work from the early and mid-'90s - only the sound has the fullness, richness and clarity it deserves. And the warmth of Flaco's voice, alone or in harmony with vocalist Raul "Nunie" Rubio, more than makes up for the absence of that old needle-on-vinyl feeling.

Flaco Jimenez
Flaco dances between classic and contemporary compositions throughout the disc (clocking in at a lean 35 minutes), never once sacrificing sentido for sonido. His accordion on "Prenda Del Alma," a decades-old bolero, lends an optimistic note to the heartfelt tale of lost love. In contrast, the dreamy "Soy Romantico" is all about falling in love, again and again. Then there's "Cuando Te Quiero, Te Vas," a rousing cumbia about a back-and-forth relationship located somewhere thematically between the previous two songs. As the lone cumbia, it more than holds its own with the remaining rancheras on the album.

Squeeze Box King opens with "En El Cielo No Hay Cerveza (In Heaven There Is No Beer)," a catchy, rambunctious little ditty celebrating the camaraderie that comes from drinking with good friends. Reminiscent of "Borracho #1," one of Flaco's earlier polkas on a similar subject, "En El Cielo" sets a light-hearted and spirited mood for the rest of the album. Chances are you've heard it before, but what's unique about this version is its trilingual lyrics, in Spanish, English, and -improbably enough - Dutch. It's another reminder that as South Texas conjunto music has spread internationally, Jimenez has served as the genre's de facto ambassador to the world.

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