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Squeeze City

Mark Halata hopes his Texavian strains can be heard in a town full of accordions

Halata's first album, Texavia, has just hit the streets, and Halata is hoping for a revival of the Texas-style polka he calls his own. Halata doesn't speak Czech, but does sing it. "I work very hard at the pronunciation," he says, with pride. While much of the material is traditional, the "Tex" half of the Texavian equation often comes to the fore. Songs like "Your Looks, My Luck" and "Crazy Arms" are 100 percent Czexan honky-tonk.

The cover of Texavia sports Halata's beautiful cobalt, red and white Gabbanelli piano accordion. A trip to the Italian company's Meyerland emporium revealed much about what binds Czechs, Germans, Creoles, Mexican-Americans and Cajuns together. While the staff wasn't all that informative (they declined an interview request), a look at the store's inventory was. Along with two walls of breathtaking accordions (piano, button and chromatic) of every imaginable color, the store also trades heavily in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religious art. Where there are accordions, there are also likely to be rosary beads and icons (not to mention beer, wine and/or vodka) not too far off, and nary a teetotaling Church of Christ-er in the house.

"Frank Motley used to always say, 'Man, Catholics have the coolest music,' " Halata recalls with a laugh.

The Gabbanellis of Meyerland have this town in a squeeze.
The Gabbanellis of Meyerland have this town in a squeeze.

Since Houston is one of the few cities south of Maryland with anything approaching a Catholic majority, it's no surprise that we've got the most accordion players. "Definitely," Halata goes on. "Houston is the king city of the accordion. Czechs, Germans, African-Americans, Mexicans, Cajuns, this is where it all comes together."

So get used to it, Houstonians. Austin is a guitar town. Nashville is all about the pedal steel. New Orleans -- in real life -- is ruled by pianists and trumpeters. Houston has been a tenor sax Valhalla and a blues guitar mecca, and was once memorably (if musically inaccurately) described as "a whiskey and trombone town," but is now, undoubtedly, Squeezebox City.

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