Elana takes apart a fiddle solo by the legendary JR Chatwell, by way of Johnny Gimble, over the changes to Right or Wrong.
Elana Featured on Episode 14 of Robert Houston’s Western Swing Rules Series
Western Horseman CD Review, January 2016
ELANA JAMES, of the popular band Hot Club of Cowtown, released a solo album called Black Beauty. It features 13 songs, including a mix of her own tracks plus those of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the Grateful Dead. The album ranges from easy-listening ballads, snap-worthy jazz to electric folk songs.
Though the album differs from the traditional Western swing for which she’s known, it is rooted in country with an emphasis on romance. The fiddler and singer-songwriter worked many years as a packer and wrangler in Colorado and Montana and melds her experiences into her music. In “High Upon the Mountain,” the lyrics reminisce about the remarkable scenery: “A breeze comes off the river, and rustles through the grass; sunlight dips below the ridge, shadows falling fast.” Acoustic songs “Eva’s Dance” and “Waltz of the Animals” allow James’s fiddling skills to take center stage.
Brace Yourself for Swinging Hot Club of Cowtown, Jazz Alley Hoedown
For the longest time, the Hot Club of Cowtown came to Seattle to play the usual outskirts of the mainstream. Look at the band’s name. But now, the fiddle/guitar/bass trio of Elana James, Whit Smith, and Jake Erwin intends to turn Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley — the bigtime! — into a swinging hot club hoedown for two nights, October 27-28.
Frontwoman James is ready. In an exclusive interview with AXS yesterday, the fiddle player and vocalist talked about the band members’ excitement at introducing their gypsy jazz/Western swing dance hybrid to a whole new segment of the listening audience, a wider set most assuredly.
“We have always played Seattle since we first began touring 175 years ago, but we generally have played the Tractor. This is our first visit to Jazz Alley and we are totally looking forward to it,” she explained. “… We love coming to the Pacific Northwest and especially Seattle. We don’t feel like we come nearly often enough, so we are first of all thrilled to be back at all, but also to be in a new place playing for people who may discover us just because we’re playing Jazz Alley, and may not have known about us otherwise — that’s cool, and we hope there’s some of that for these shows.”
Hot Club of Cowtown’s Elana James Fiddles in Tiny Places, Big Stages
Elana James’ fiddle has taken her to some varied places.
She’s been in Georgia, the republic, not the state, and Oman, the sultanate, and Armenia. She’s been in big places, including a baseball-stadium tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.
Wall Street Journal includes Elana’s new album “Black Beauty” in “6 Retro Roots Albums to Jump-Start Your Summer”
Best known as a co-founder of the Hot Club of Cowtown, the band that marries Bob Wills Texas swing and Django Reinhardt era jazz, Ms. James is more a singing, swinging Grappelli- and Venuti-influenced violinist than a breakdown fiddler, which serves her well on this set. Her smooth, sweet string-vocal combination is applied—along with jazz piano here, steel guitar there—to material ranging from the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” to Goebel Reeves’s “Hobo’s Lullaby” and the Peggy Lee/Benny Goodman “All I Need Is You.” Genre distinctions collapse. The rootsier songs all become entries in the jazzy Great American Songbook.
Hot Club of Cowtown Fiddler Elana James Saddles Up Black Beauty (Austin Chronicle)
by Jim Caligiuri
Friday night at the White Horse, and the East Austin honky-tonk has cleared a sizable dance floor for Elana James and her band. Since they’re celebrating the release of her new CD, Black Beauty, a folk album in the truest sense, it limits material to the swing and country associated with James’ other band, Hot Club of Cowtown.
With “Eva’s Dance,” the local violinist slips in a ripping new fiddle tune about her adorable canine companion, plus another Black Beauty in trad-country-spiced original “High Upon the Mountain.” Otherwise it’s a dance party with guitarist Dave Biller filling in for her longtime musical partner in Hot Club of Cowtown, Whit Smith. The next day, she shrugs off the discrepancy.
“I love dancers, and I love the festive environment where the band isn’t the absolute focus,” says James.
That’s her m.o. in a career closing in on 30 years – easygoing, alternative.
James’ second solo effort doesn’t shy away from surprises. Besides her acoustic-leaning originals, she revisits Eighties pop in Yaz/Alison Moyet’s biggest hit “Only You” and Meri Wilson’s “Telephone Man.” There’s also American folk from Woody Guthrie and the Grateful Dead, as well as an Azerbaijani fiddle tune and, from the former Bob Dylan hired hand, a honky-tonk rendition of his “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”
“They all go together for me,” explains James, 44. “I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City and for people of my age, my generation, that’s what was going on. They’re of a piece, just great songs. They have form, melody, and cohesive sentiment.
“Alison Moyet’s voice always struck me as very earthy and emotional. I’ve always loved that song. Some people want to hold up the garlic to the vampire when I do that song. They don’t want to know that I also like that type of music. I would love to be known for being well-versed on both sides of the spectrum.”
Elana James (née Fremerman) began playing violin at age 4. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Religion from Barnard College in New York City. That’s where she met Whit Smith in the early Nineties and joined his ensemble Western Caravan. She also studied violin and viola at the Manhattan School of Music.
A world traveler, James studied Indian classical music in Brindavan, India. Editorial jobs in NYC were punctuated by summers in Colorado where she worked as a horse packer and wrangler, augmented by playing fiddle in a cowboy band. She and Smith eventually drifted to San Diego where it was warm and cheap to live. There they met Austin’s Billy Horton, who invited them to Texas. Once here, Horton began playing stand-up bass with the duo, and in 1997, Hot Club of Cowtown was born.
The trio has since released eight albums of swing jazz with country overtones. Horton didn’t last as the bass player, but Jake Erwin, who joined in 2001, did. By 2004, all signs looked favorable for the band. That year they spent the summer opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson’s tour of baseball stadiums.
“We had a very stressful year,” reveals James. “I think we did something like 240 gigs that year. Now I say that and I can’t believe it’s true. As the tour was ending, Whit told me he wanted to quit the band.
“It seemed like everything was going good, but for him it was, ‘Pull the rip cord; I want out.’ What was really happening was that he was sick of being in a band with me and they tried to force me out. They replaced me unsuccessfully and did some gigs. I had to issue a cease-and-desist order to the booking agent.
“I don’t blame Whit. I think it was more about the creepy people in the industry more than anything else.”
Those black clouds had a golden lining.
“It looks like I got hired by Bob Dylan and then quit [Hot Club],” she recalls. “In fact, it was just a crazy convergence. But I knew who I wanted to play with. I play music with Whit. I invited him to be in my band and he was very gracious. Then Jake joined us.”
By 2008, they were calling themselves Hot Club of Cowtown again.
Before that, in 2005, James became the first dedicated female instrumentalist in a Dylan touring band in more than three decades. The next year, she opened his summer tour. Then 2007 brought her self-titled solo debut, a jazzier set than the new one that featured Texas Playboy fiddle legend Johnny Gimble throughout. If such a “get” doesn’t speak to her own prowess on the instrument, then never mind.
“I like the first record, but it was a time frame that caused it to happen, nothing else,” she offers. “Since Hot Club got back together, there’s been no imperative for me to make something new on my own.”
She took her time and made Black Beauty when she felt like it, mainly for herself.
“I’m not the bandleader for Hot Club,” she says. “There isn’t one. So when I’m leading a band on my own, it’s a completely different experience. I always get nervous when I do those kinds of things, but the Hot Club is one artistic outlet. There’s a lot of stuff I like in my weird eclectic taste.”
Her off-kilter new folk disc features a tune made famous by genre godfather Woody Guthrie, “Hobo’s Lullaby,” and an adventurous reading of the Grateful Dead’s nearly bluegrass “Ripple.” The most courageous of her own songs is based on a sobering source.
“‘Hey Beautiful’ is a word-for-word final letter home from Iraq by U.S. Staff Sergeant Juan Campos to his wife,” explains James. “I first saw it published in The New York Times in 2008 and was deeply moved by the clarity of his love for her and for the life he had back home, and also the camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, so I put it to music.”
Black Beauty has a spiritual nature to it, a sense of longing for something greater, deeper. The same might be said about its maker’s musical path. Besides working with Dylan, Nelson, and Merle Haggard, she’s accompanied locals Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, and Heybale, though she scoffs at the idea of becoming a fiddle for hire.
“I’m comfortable with my career choice,” she states. “There’s my horse interests. I’ve been to Europe. I’m fluent and comfortable with other cultures, too. The music Hot Club makes is a perfect melding of the different parts of me and that’s what’s enabled me to stay with it this long.”
Country Standard Time CD Review, March 2015
In 2007, Elana James released an acclaimed self-titled album. The singer, songwriter, and violinist – best known for her work with the Western swing/hot jazz trio Hot Club of Cowtown – strikes gold again with her new album. The disc is a collection of five new originals and several songs she has always loved from Bob Dylan (Hot Club opened for him on his 2006 North American minor league baseball stadium tour), Robert Hunter and Woody Guthrie.
Elana James & Hot Club of Cowtown WINNERS at the 2nd Annual Ameripolitan Awards!
The 2nd Annual Ameripolitan Music Awards was held Tuesday, February 17th, 8:00 pm at the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin, Texas. Elana James won the award for “Western Swing Female”, and the Hot Club of Cowtown won the award for “Western Swing Group”. It was a great night!
Click here for some cool photos!
About the Ameripolitan Awards
Under the leadership of Texas Honky Tonk legend, Dale Watson, The Ameripolitan Music Awards was created to acknowledge the exceptional creativity and dedication of roots artists whose work does not readily conform to the tastes of today’s “Country”, “Americana”, or other music genres and organizations. Ameripolitan Music LLC and The Ameripolitan Music Awards were founded to benefit and acknowledge these artists. It also provides fans with a means of finding these artists and their music.
Ameripolitan – This thought provoking word is intended to be an invitation to discuss the future of the music that is important to so many. It is music that has heart and guts. The goal of Ameripolitan Music is to help reestablish this music’s own unique identity, elevate its significance and help reinvigorate it creatively. Also, because of our place in history, we have the privilege and responsibility to pass a great musical tradition on to future generations who will otherwise have no direct connection to this music.
The Ameripolitan Music Awards acknowledges those Ameripolitan artists whose music honors tradition while demonstrating exceptional originality, creativity, and musicianship. Through their work, Ameripolitan music is now being defined. The Awards also acknowledge Ameripolitan DJs and venues that promote these artists and their music along with honoring a living legend who has kept the tradition alive through their music and perseverance.
Popmatters CD Review, February 25, 2015
Primarily known for her work with the western swing trio the Hot Club of Cowtown, frontwoman and fiddler Elana James has made it a point to let her folk flag shine high and mightily in her solo debut, Black Beauty. Beyond that, James has been eager to show a substantial nod towards innovation in ways that would have been otherwise unfathomable to new listeners expecting a straight Americana album and faithful Cowtown followers alike. Offering her gently discordant vocals to the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple”, James gives the benevolent rock staple a countrified intonation. Meanwhile, on “Hey Beautiful: Last Letter From Iraq”, she creates a lilting traditional folk soundscape around the actual final letter home of US Army Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, who’d died in 2007 while serving.
The Bluegrass Situation CD Review, January 28, 2015
Back in 2007, Elana James — fiddler, songwriter, and vocalist for the always innovative and swinging Hot Club of Cowtown — released a self-titled solo album. Come February 2015, James makes her solo return with a stunning new effort, Black Beauty, that showcases her vocal range, brilliant fiddling and canny ability to cast an enchanting musical spell by weaving words and music under and around one another.
Elana James Eyes the Sky in “Who Loves You More”
Elana James, known around Austin, Texas, and beyond as the fiddler and singer in Hot Club of Cowtown, is stepping out with Black Beauty. An engaging mix of original tunes and well-curated covers, the eclectic solo project arrives Feb. 24.
The musical diversity on the album comes naturally. James is a Kansas native who earned a degree in comparative religion in New York City and studied music in India. When she’s not on tour, she works as a horse wrangler in Colorado. So, much like her creative impulses, she’s hard to pin down. Nonetheless, she graciously fielded a few questions by email about her new project.
Bentley’s Bandstand Gives the First Review of the New Album
For the woman who is one of the cornerstones of Hot Club of Cowtown to jump off the deep end of moody bohemia and musical exploration is music to the ears of Elana James’ many followers. Right on time to boot. She is one of the youngest members inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame. By taking that talent and putting it into the mix on songs by the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan (whose band James was a member of in 2005), the Hollies and Woody Guthrie, as well as her appealing originals, she becomes a much-needed detour on the Americana highway. It would be a mistake to expect any less from someone who went from Prairie Village, Kansas to graduating cum laude with a degree in Comparative Religion from Barnard College.
The way that Elana James balances her rural background with big city smarts for a rich and surprising sound is the real beauty of Black Beauty. Both influences are pervasive throughout each song, but their blend turns everything into a personal glimpse of what assimilation can be. There’s even a song that features a word-for-word final letter home to his wife from US Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, who died in Iraq in 2007. There hasn’t been anything quite like this before, and in putting it to music Elana James has shown the world a glimpse into eternal love. Forever.
Elana nominated second year in a row for Ameripolitan Music Award
Voting begins December 6.
Elana has again been nominated in the category of Western Swing Female for the 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards, to be held at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2015. Hot Club of Cowtown has also been nominated for Western Swing Group of the year. Voting ends in first week of January. You can cast your vote HERE!
New video clip! Click the link below to watch Elana sing “Someone to Watch Over Me” w/Hot Club of Cowtown, featuring Jimmy Capps on guitar, on Larry’s Country Diner on RFD-TV. First broadcast August, 26, 2014
The Hot Club of Cowtown got to play on Larry’s Country Diner on RFD-TV this past summer. The episode was first broadcast on August 23, 2014. It will re-broadcast in November on Saturday, November 22 at 10 PM CST and Sunday, November 23 at 6 PM CST. Here is a teaser clip from the show: Elana singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” featuring the inimitable Jimmy Capps sitting in on guitar.
Elana honored to be named a 2014-2016 Texas State Touring Artist by the Texas Comissin on the Arts
Q & A With Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown)–No Depression
Click here to read the interview.
Hot Club of Cowtown singer and violinist–and KC native–Elana James on her band’s latest, Rendezvous in Rhythm
Click here to read the interview.
Elana nominated in the Western Swing Category for the first ever Ameripolitan Music Awards. Voting allowed December 6 through January 2, 2014
Please vote here!
Barnard College Magazine, May 8, 2012: Strings that Swing
Great article by June Bell for my Alma mater, Barnard College:
To read the article, please click here.
Ear to Ear Project: The Fiddler, Songster, Country Swing Seed
Elana James – the Fiddler, Songster, Country Swing Seed
I am a recent convert to country. I scoffed, I scorned, I teased. Then I listened. And I learned. And now I’m hooked….not to all the “my dog ran off with my wife and left me with a broken truck” stuff (although it can be fun) but to some of the most mind-blowing technical and musical artists I’ve ever laid ear on. And one of the incredible musicians who showed me the way was was Elana James.
Her song, “Twenty-Four Hours A Day” was in heavy rotation on WDVX. I listened for a week each time missing the artist announcement before I finally gave up and emailed the DJ in desperation. That song became one of my first Song of the Day columns for NPR, and I’ve been following her career since.
On stage, her fingers fly, words pour, and I am entranced. From the classics to her own writing, she brings a electric spark to each thing she sings, and simply shines out. Even when it’s heartbreaking, the music is fun, making your feet tap and fingers want to skip along. So it is my pleasure to introduce….Elana James.
How did you get started playing?
My mom is a violinist and my older sister played the flute. When I turned four it was time for me to start playing something. I liked the violin, since I always heard my mom playing it and I wanted to do something different from my sister. I had a very emotional reaction to playing in a way–when I cashed in my 3/4 sized violin for the full sized one I have now, it was covered in the accumulated dried salt from all my tears and snot from tantrums when my mom used to make me practice.
What was the first recording you ever purchased?
The Violent Femmes. And right after that, Thriller.
You play with your band, Hot Club of Cowtown, and also as a solo artist. Is it different performing as the named artist, instead of part of a group?
Yes. As a violinist, who you’re playing with is really important. It’s not a self-sustaining instrument–I can’t accompany myself when I play. The band encompasses the sound and creates something bigger that frames and supports the violin. I am comfortable in both formats (solo and band member), but there’s a kind of certainty and security in a band–all three of you are there or there’s no show. You have this force that is unmistakable.
Sometimes as a solo artist, I can feel self-conscious, that the show rests on me personally, that pressure to DELIVER, whatever that means. I think the model I am comfortable with is as a band leader who regularly features all members of the band–If I do more solo stuff, it will be along those lines. In a way, that’s what the Hot Club feels like to me–everybody’s featured and everybody shines.
Did you always want to play violin, or were there other instruments you tried out first (or since?)
The summer after my freshman year at Barnard I was all set to throw myself into the violin and give it a go–see if I could catch up with other players my age. I had a great teacher, Lucie Robert, who was teaching at the Manhattan School of Music back then. I had auditioned for a special program they had with Barnard and was assigned to study with her. She was incredibly inspiring, but a few weeks after we started a summer session at this place in upstate New York, called Meadowmount, she told me at my lesson that I would never really have a future as a violinist and that maybe I should consider the viola? So I wept for a weekend up there, and then rented a viola and got busy. I stopped playing violin for about four years and just concentrated on viola, and I grew to really like it, and grew a lot musically during that time, though I never could play fiddle tunes on it as well
What attracted you to swing?
Actually, that same summer, Lucie and her husband Jeff had a little gathering at their cabin. They are both hardcore Classical musicians, but this one night, kind of as a joyful guilty pleasure, they got out these Gershwin songbooks and played them together. I was so moved and enthralled to see them playing this very different king of music–it was thrilling. That night I went back to my cabin and wrote on my calendar that that was the day I decided to go into music. I guess I was 18. But it took several years for that to come about–I had to keep meeting this music in unexpected places. We were like strangers who just kept bumping into each other. I didn’t think the music remembered me until we got formally introduced.
The stereotype of “country” music people is pretty strong – do you think you fit that mold?
I certainly have the street cred to be a “fiddler” in the country sense of the word, since I can ride and rope, have worked out west as a wrangler and packer, and have allowed my life to be shaped by these unconventional loves of music and western life. In that sense I feel totally authentic and I think that is something I have always felt, and I feel that must come through in my playing.
In a kind of country tradition, I’ve been been welcomed and encouraged by those who have gone further down the path [to music] than I have (yet), and gotten to play alongside them (Johnny Gimble, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Cliff Bruner, Buck Owens, Frankie McWhorter). It makes me feel like I am on the right track–like that these people have taken the time to believe in me, in one way or another, offer advice and wisdom, and that means so much.
One way I am not a traditional country fiddler though is that I have a degree in comparative religion from Columbia University and had a bat mitzvah!! But honestly, I also am spared the worry that I have seen some more traditional players have (so unnecessarily!) from time to time–I don’t worry about what it would be like to read music, or, you know, how would my life have been different if I had gone to college or been more formally trained? I tried all that, I did it, I checked those boxes and I have chosen this because I love it and it’s me. So I don’t have doubts like, “what if?”
Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical? A painter, building, dish of cereal?
Of course!! Usually I picture it like the circus, or like being a gypsy, or urban camping, or a traveling salesman of pots and pans. It’s also like how Tibetan monks make sand mandala paintings: getting out there every night you are painting the same picture again and again but it’s always different and you never know how it’s going to turn out. And then it’s gone forever and you start over the next night. But it’s also like an iceberg–people just see the snowy tip, not the dark, blue ice mass beneath it that supports it and allows it to appear to be floating effortlessly. But that’s where the snowy tip comes from. And they shouldn’t see that. That’s the nature of show business–it’s not accounting!
Who would you consider your musical inspiration?
When I am around other people playing, especially in other cultures–India, gypsy music, old-timers of one kind or another who are authentically steeped in their tradition, where the music is playing through them, that is deep and inspiring to me.
Great moments – seeing Hun Huur Tu live, seeing Taraf de Haidouks, watching Johnny Gimble play, watching anyone play–the violin especially–in a passionate way. I have been guided and inspired by the playing of Stephane Grappelli, and the fiddlers from the Bob Wills band of the 1940s most of all, as far as musical ideas go.
If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?
I’m going to keep it to people who are alive–otherwise, it would be too vast to contemplate!
I guess I would do a tour with Bob Dylan where he and I played and sang in kind of a small trio format. Dorado and Tchavolo Schmitt, Taraf de Haidouks, Hun Huur Tu, and the band Csokolom would also be on the bill. Oh, and Romain Duris would be the emcee.
What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?
It varies. It’s some kind of authenticity. It’s like that person has been somewhere I want to go, or haven’t yet had to go, and they are reporting back for the rest of us.
Or that feeling that someone has distilled something so deep and private, and sometimes painful, that it becomes magical. The Bob Dylan song “I Believe in You” is like that. Also Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home.” My favorite songs often tend to be like prayers.
Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?
I really like Emily Gimble, who is a young singer and piano player out of Austin, TX who sings with an amazing, free, effortless style. She sounds a little bit like Norah Jones and Billie Holliday, but it’s not as mannered or stuffy as other female singers I’ve heard in that style. What I like about Emily is that she is totally unaffected and the music just pours out of her, like it floats up out of her body, like an essential part of her. She is also the granddaughter of Johnny Gimble, my fiddling idol. When they play together–which is often–it is magical and moving.
I also love Csokolom. They play traditional Romanian and Hungarian folk tunes on fiddles. I don’t know if they even still exist, but one CD they made, “May I Kiss Your Hand” is definitely one of my favorite CDs ever. This woman sings in this husky, natural voice and the fiddling is pure and rustic–again, no Mark O’Connor affectations and nothing antiseptic–just clean and beautiful playing on these beautiful songs about gypsies, bears, and traditional songs.
Finally, there’s something about this other young woman from Austin, Betty Soo that I can’t put my finger on. She is a singer songwriter who just put out her first CD. She is Korean, too, which you (or at least I!) don’t see very often in the world of Americana music, though I don’t know why. Anyway, I have not heard her CD but I have heard her sing live and she has a great voice–kind of like Sheryl Crow, but again something rich and deep about her singing–totally unpretentious. She strikes me as a totally unassuming person, but a really soulful singer, very tasteful, nothing over-wrought.
Eva’s Road Dog Blog No. 3
It’s been a long hot summer, and I wasn’t even in Austin. I just got back here today, though, and am loving it. We had some major adventures these past few months, criscrossing the USA. Here we are backstage at the Earlville Opera House and also here I am doing security at Lincoln Center for the Midsummer Night Swing series.
We played the WGLT Festival in Normal IL and it got a little loud so I wore my headscarf.
Mostly I was told to stay off the stage this summer, which was disappointing, but I came to realize that it can get pretty boring being up there for 45 minutes at a time. This week I did sneak up on stage at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, NH, though, and I killed.
We traveled to a bunch of festivals where I received various gifts, including two Spiffy Dog collars from an old friend from Colorado, Kyle Nelson. I can’t decide which one I like best so have been wearing both. Elana and Jake went to Oman in July and Whit and I stayed in Austin, but they did meet one of my Omani cousins in Muscat, and took their picture with the Sultan, who I think is still trying to decide between leading the country or joining the Hot Club of Cowtown.
Sometimes we had a little car trouble, like in Cleveland, but Whit found a hanger and solved it (with Jake’s and my help). Also in Boston the valet completely totaled the front door of the van, but they are paying for it, so we are thinking of getting a brand new van and telling them that’s what it cost to replace the door–HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
The best things about Colorado were seeing old friends, sleeping under the piano backstage at the Strings Music festival, driving through a lightning storm, and walking in the woods in Winter Park.
This past weekend at the American Folk Festival in Bangor, ME I was treated like a rockstar, with my own transportation and an afternoon with good friends along the riverside.
Thank you for a wonderful summer.
US State Department Sending Hot Club of Cowtown to Sultanate of Oman
The US State Department has invited the Hot Club of Cowtown to participate in a few cultural activites in Oman this week. The first event will be an outdoor concert in Salalah, along the southern coast, as part of The Khareef Festival, an international arts and music festival that takes place in Salalah every year. The second show, in the capital city of Muscat, will be on July 24, at the Abustan Palace Hotel. Both shows are free and open to the public. For this special weekend of shows, Elana and Jake are going to be joined by our good friend Ted Gottsegen on guitar who will be filling in for Whit. We are very honored and excited to be representing the US on our first official trip to the Middle East.
Eva’s Road Dog Blog No. 2
May 25, 2011
We just wrapped up our three-week spring California/Nevada tour and I’m psyched to be home now. To me California is: lots of water, lots of friends.
The best parts of the tour were going to dog beach in Santa Cruz, and the backstage rider in Sonoma.
One thing that happened in Sonoma was that Jake cut his thumb on the ceramic knife they had backstage. It was all okay in the end. Crucially, I was still able to enjoy cheese and crackers during the show. This is me helping out.
We played McCabe’s in Santa Monica, where there was a soft brown couch backstage.
In Bishop, California, one of the rare places, like Uzbekistan, where we’d never been, we played a fun show for the whole town. For some reason I spent a lot of time supervising soundcheck on this tour.
A typical day on tour in California was: recharge by the hotel pool….
…..then handle stage security at the show. Sometimes I appear to be asleep but am really focused just on making it through the set–I mean, enjoying the set!
The last day of the tour we woke up in Reno just before heading back home and I couldn’t remember where we were, but then we turned on the radio and heard the great piece about us by John Burnett on NPR Weekend Edition and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
NPR Weekend Edition: Hot Club of Cowtown
Special thanks to John Burnett for doing such a great piece on us and Cain’s Ballroom.
Click here to listen.
Eva’s Road Dog Blog No. 1
This is my first dispatch from the road. I was checking out Steve Martin’s tour journal earlier today and it inspired me, especially the part about the K-9 sweep before his shows.
Today we’re heading back to Austin after three weeks on the road and I can’t wait to get back home. On the way out of town today Jake had to stop at three different places just to stock up on New Glarus Totally Naked and Spotted Cow. For myself, I got beef jerky and Wisconsin cheese curds from our host last night at Leo & Leona’s in Bangor, Wisconsin, which is allowing me to sleep my way home…
The tour was overall a great success–not sure how the shows went, but I was able to see lots of sites and hit good parks and trails in 10 different states. Sometimes Elana takes pictures of me backstage, which is embarrassing, but I do feel it captures the spirit of the road.
We kicked things off in Marblehead, Massachusetts playing at the Me and Thee Coffeehouse (see my online interview with Sniff). We stopped by WKCR in New York City and WUMB in Chicago, and even Farm Fresh Radio just west of Middlebury, Vermont where I met some great cows.
In Chicago we stayed in Lincoln Park right near Wrigley Field and hit Hot Doug’s for some encased meat snacks on the way out of town. Looking forward to heading to California at the end of the month, so till then…..
New York Times Live Review: January 7, 2011
Thursday night, in the basement of Hill Country Barbecue Market, where pork ribs and slices of brisket are eaten off slick butcher paper and the napkins are rolls of paper towels, the smell of Texas was almost as pungent as the sound.
“It certainly smelled like Austin when we walked in the door tonight,” said Elana James, fiddler for Hot Club of Cowtown, the revivalists of hot jazz, western swing and, in the case of at least one member, tight and slick pompadours.
But thanks to an arsenal full of technique and joy, drawing attention from the nose to the ear proved easy for this group, composed of Ms. James, Whit Smith on guitar and Jake Erwin on upright bass and, presumably, Brylcreem.
Individually, they’re all tremendous players, though as singers, they’re far less forceful. (Ms. James and Mr. Smith split lead vocal duties.) Nevertheless, Hot Club of Cowtown knows every workaround, every gambit, every way to patch its sound whole.
They play loose with tempos, speeding and slowing both the songs and the playing inside them. They tweak the dynamics, putting their best sounds forward at any given moment: on a cover of a song by Dorado Schmitt, the French Gypsy guitar player, Mr. Smith played snarling, angsty guitar filigrees until Ms. James stepped up and snatched the song with easy swagger.
There’s the virtuosic fiddling of Ms. James — she’s played with Bob Dylan’s band — and the aerobic workout that is Mr. Erwin’s bass playing. And there’s the band’s elemental warmth. Even a melancholy number described by Mr. Smith as “if Kurt Weill had been born in West Texas” was deeply affable.
Several songs were drawn from the band’s new album, “What Makes Bob Holler” (Proper American), to be released next month and consisting wholly of interpretations of songs by the western swing pioneers Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Recorded in single takes and modestly produced, it’s one of the most consistent Cowtown albums, a showcase for its vibrant and sometimes risky faithfulness to the genre.
A brief intermission followed the group’s first set, after which it returned for a second, less ambitious one, a lighthearted saunter that relied less on skill and more on collective, and possibly slightly soused, good cheer in the room. Mr. Smith expressed anxiety — genially, of course — on Wills’s “She’s Killing Me.” Ms. James sang a bittersweet song she’d written about her high school reunion. Mr. Smith winked his way through “Roly Poly,” which was popularized by Wills, and verged on lounge shtick during the standard “Cheek to Cheek.”
On a cover of Tom Waits’s “Long Way Home,” the group tried its most complex three-part harmony, though it was overly tentative, as if the band members weren’t sure where to place all the voices at once.
But just before the end of the night, during a cover of the Light Crust Doughboys’ western swing chestnut “Pussy Pussy Pussy,” Cowtown roared back. Mr. Smith and Mr. Erwin kept prodding Ms. James: “Ma’am, is this your cat?” It wasn’t, she proclaimed, as she teasingly coaxed naughty meows from her fiddle.
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