Polka Dot Com

Though polkas are what have put the bread on their table, Brave Combo would be the first to admit that man doth not live by polka alone. The veteran Texas band's latest, The Process, purports to be its "pop" album; given this band's M.O., however, it's not pop in any currently recognizable universe. The collection is more a blend of lounge and exotica-plus-dementia, set to what used to be called MOR — Middle of the Road — pop. The snazzy opener, leader Carl Finch's "Golden Opportunity," set the tone for the album, with bippity-bop horns and rippling keyboards setting off the lyrics ("Hello, my life sucks/ In a thousand ways it's just/ A disappointing loss of time/ And energy") of a self-loathing guy who gets lucky.

Admittedly, it doesn't always work so well. The mind can easily wander from the constant juxtaposition here of light, bouncy music with schizoid lyrics. Yet this is a band of sharp, smart musicians and arrangers, and they nearly always throw in something to keep their songs interesting. The lounge here is slinky; the MOR, ornate (with overdubs, the quartet can sound like a swing-era big band). And, at its best, it is very good indeed.

"For Me" has undeniable warmth and some great lounge harmonica (!) from Jeffrey Barnes, who also blows his sax solo on "So Rich" as if he was some Atlantic Records R&B session man from the 1950s. Bassist Bubba Hernandez's "My Tears Are Nothing" is nothing if not dramatic, with an effortless flow, while Finch's death-of innocence "Human" rides a groove of burbling keys and more squalling from Barnes. "Denton, Texas" is a catchy instrumental based on a single riff and rhythm lick. And the breathy, mock macho version here of Foreigner's "Double Vision" represents one of the things Brave Combo have always done well — recasting familiar pop hits from rock to schlock ("People Are Strange," "Besame Mucho"), so they fit into the band's own musical and emotional cosmos. This CD might have benefited from another track or two like that.

I'm not sure I'll be playing this as much as I do other Brave Combo efforts. But I bet when they work some of these songs into their live act, along with all their other energetic and oddball material, they'll sound not just better — but utterly appropriate.