Cafe Christmas CD Review

Accordions for Christmas? Seriously? Put aside any prejudices you might have about the accordion, and lend your lucky ears to Cafe Christmas. This is an outstanding holiday release; even the accordion-phobic will stand up and cheer!

First things first. Although an accordion is definitely involved, the Cafe Accordion Orchestra is oh-so much more! The Cafe Accordion Orchestra (CAO) consists of five talented guys playing, yes, the accordion (Dan Newton), and a whole host of (largely) string instruments and percussion. Newton and Brian Barnes contribute the occasional vocal (on perhaps 1/3 of the tracks), and their singing is inspired and inspiring. The CAO’s self-described style is Bal-Musette, a style of French music particularly popular in the 1940s. Think of it as gypsy music, culturally rich and enthusiastically diverse. As a result, CAO’s Cafe Christmas exudes international pizzazz; the traditional holiday pieces are creatively reconfigured as waltzes, polkas, and cha-chas, to name a few. This may sound crazy, but the formula works exceedingly well.

The opening Christmas Waltz put me at a Paris sidewalk cafe along the Seine, all moonlight and stars, wine glass in hand, a huge smile on my mug. The “Paso Doble” Jingle Bells takes the traditional number to an entirely fresh dimension, with minor chord changes and castanets. Too cool! A Holly Jolly Christmas is a brilliant Burl Ives imitation in the “Greek Style.” The intensely beautiful instrumental Christmas Time Is Here reveals CAO’s softer side. And I could go on and on–every track is a gem!

Now I have lived in Minnesota since the mid-80s, and CAO is based in Minneapolis. As a result, some jaded readers might say that I have a chauvinistic bias towards these boys. Absolutely not! CAO’s eclectic Cafe Christmas is indisputably the real deal. Charged with exquisite creativity and world-wide flair, it’s my favorite CD so far this holiday reviewing season. Hip, Hip, HURRAY!

–Carol Swanson, 2008,