The versatility of the accordion remains its chief virtue; just witness its lead role in conjunto, Tex-Czech, zydeco and Cajun music, not to mention Gulf Coast rock bands. Since 1992, that versatility has been celebrated annually in Houston in a showcase immodestly (but accurately) titled Accordion Kings. The lineup, custom-tailored from the Texas Folklife Resources touring roster of accordion artists, has exposed Houston listeners to a large gallery of players.
As usual, this year's two-night affair jumbles various styles at every turn, beginning Friday with Austin's Los Pinkys. A straight-ahead conjunto band with all the classic elements, the Pinkys feature accordionist Isidro Samilpa. A veteran of the 1960s and '70s Austin scene, when conjunto was the dominant sound in the then fernless Sixth Street cantinas, Samilpa fronts a band that in just two years has vaulted to front-runner status.
Next on the lineup is Roy Carrier and the Night Rockers Zydeco Band. Carrier's grandfather and father both played the accordion, and his band includes a son and two nephews. Roy plays a French-style button instrument, which is less favored among zydeco types than the keyboard variety. Like Los Pinkys, Carrier sticks to the straight and narrow.
That's not the case with Friday's headliner, Brave Combo. This is a group that breaks barriers like a short-order cook breaks eggs. Accordion-backed, danceable polkas baked, boiled or fried are the Combo's specialty. When your band's members collectively speak 25 languages, themes tend to drift across borders. But polka fanatic/founder/accordionist Carl Finch keeps the band forever rooted in tradition.
Saturday leads with the Patrick Veit Orchestra. Led by Shiner-born accordionist Veit, the Orchestra is a relatively new Tex-Czech polka band. Another musician whose relatives played with the greats, Veit keeps his accordion in front of the traditional brass and reed wall of sound with an array of unexpected twists and turns. Port Arthur accordionist Jerry Bellot adds a spicy twist to the proceedings with his band the Cajun Friends.
More Creole sounds take center stage with Chris Ardoin and Double Clutching. Ardoin is only the latest accordion-playing member of the most prominent zydeco family in history; his great-grandfather Amedee practically invented the music. Chris sustains the family legacy, mixing the meat of the old repertoire with the potatoes of the new.
The last King to take the stage Saturday will be Flaco Jimenez, the closest thing conjunto has to a household name (and the most worldly conjunto name in the house). Famous for his collaborations with Anglo rock and country stars, Jimenez is at his best when plying his trade the old-fashioned way. Jimenez's crack crew lets his accordion soar on a rhythmic tether like some cosmic kite, gliding back to earth only when the last vibratoed note has finished penetrating the listener's head and heart. And then it's time to go. -- Bob Burtman
Accordion Kings will perform at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1, at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park. Free. For info, call 320-002 or 520-3290.
Terry Allen -- If Terry Allen's brilliantly offbeat muse was confined only to his music, that would be one thing. But as it goes, this Lubbock-raised troubadour's gifts leak into other media as well. Aside from his reputation as a weirder, wittier compatriot of Joe Ely, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, Allen is a damn good visual artist, whose widely recognized work has been shown in museums from New York to France. Most recently, Allen put the finishing touches on outdoor sculpture projects in Missouri, Colorado and the California/Mexico border, while still managing to find time to work with David Byrne on the new Human Remains, Allen's most vividly haunting solo release since his skewed '70s stroke of singer/songwriter genius Lubbock (On Everything). At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, Friday, May 31. Tickets are $12. Doors open at 8 p.m. 869-COOL. (Hobart Rowland)
Dar Williams -- When Jagged Little Pill bounded onto the airwaves last year, some DJs dubbed Alanis Morissette the Gloria Gaynor of the '90s. But while her bitter anthem to a departed lover indulged in a healthy serving of the anger that comes with getting the shaft, it also wallowed in victimization. A truer analogue to Gaynor's "I Will Survive" spirit could be found in folk artist Dar Williams, who reminds women of what they really oughta know: that surviving requires self-respect, the courage to grow and the balls to cut your losses and move on. Despite that message, men have nothing to fear from this 28-year-old neo-folkie with a three-octave range. Her approach is far from abrasive; rather, Williams is about smart lyrics laid out among spare instrumentation that backs a pillowy soft voice. Williams says her new release, Mortal City, is concerned with setting out on journeys and looking for a home. She's found the latter in Massachusetts, though with a road schedule that includes upwards of 200 dates a year, she's hardly had time to settle in. The touring experience shows in her crowd-pleasing live performances. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, Thursday, May 30, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $8. 528-5999. (Betsy Froehlich)