• Western Horseman CD Review, January 2016

    January 1st, 2016 at 11:50am

    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

    October 21st, 2015 at 9:00am

    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.

    See original article here

  • Hot Club of Cowtown’s Elana James fiddles in tiny places, big stages

    August 7th, 2015 at 11:48am

    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.

    And she’s been at tiny places — even cowboy campfires — alone and with her Hot Club of Cowtown colleagues. “I saw them in San Francisco, in a little place you’d almost call a dive,” said Patrick Power, who booked them for the Great Lakes Folk Festival. “It was packed and people loved them.”

  • Wall Street Journal includes Elana’s new album “Black Beauty” in “6 Retro Roots Albums to Jump-Start Your Summer”

    May 13th, 2015 at 4:32pm

    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)

    April 24th, 2015 at 4:35pm

    by Jim Caligari

    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.

  • “Country Standard Time” Reviews Black Beauty

    March 1st, 2015 at 11:47am

    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.

  • The Hot Club of Cowtown fiddler Elana James makes it a point to let her folk flag shine high and mightily on Black Beauty.

    February 26th, 2015 at 11:45am

    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.

  • Elana James Gives the Grateful Dead’s ‘Ripple’ a Bluegrass Lilt

    January 28th, 2015 at 11:43am

    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.

    Black Beauty collects both originals and James’ versions of some of her favorite songs, by artists ranging from Dylan and Meri Wilson to Woody Guthrie and The Grateful Dead.

    Her version of the Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia gem, “Ripple,” which opens with a poignant fiddle run that bobs under and around an aching steel guitar, captures the original mystical character of the tune.

    James’ haunting version of “Ripple” never loses its power to evoke the power of hoped-for community and the genuine joy that encourages us to sing along with a paean to a lost time and hope.

  • Elana James Eyes the Sky in “Who Loves You More”

    January 28th, 2015 at 10:34am

    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.

  • Bentley’s Bandstand Gives the First Review of the New Album

    January 16th, 2015 at 4:06pm

    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.

  • Songlines (UK) Grooves Profile: Elana James

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:30am

  • Esquire’s Guide to New Music: The Andy Langer Show – “Elana James” featured audio

    February 27th, 2007 at 7:22pm

  • Ear to Ear Project

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:44am

    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….

  • Vintage Guitar Magazine – “Elana James” Review

    February 11th, 2007 at 7:15pm

    Western Swing was first created in the late 1930’s by a generation of country players who adapted string bands to…

  • Rochester City Paper – “Elana James” Review

    February 6th, 2007 at 7:17pm

    February 6, 2007 By Frank De Blase Elana James: “Elana James” Snarf Records I’ve always felt that women that sound…

  • Live Review: Elana James & the Continental Two Country Music People

    June 11th, 2006 at 6:40pm

    Komedia, Brighton May 8, 2006 by Janet Ashley The Hot Club of Cowtown — it’s surely the most evocative and…

  • No Depression – Elana James: Making a New Name for Herself

    March 11th, 2007 at 7:28pm

    March-April 2007 By Rich Kienzle Austin, Texas – “I don’t think that many people knew me as Elana Fremerman to…

  • Stirling Observer (Scotland, UK)–Live Review

    January 12th, 2012 at 2:02am

  • Inside Bay Area – Violinist from Bob Dylan’s Band is Back in Town

    February 24th, 2006 at 6:27pm

    Oakland, CA Jim Harrington THE artist’s name didn’t sound familiar when the publicist mentioned it on the phone. “Elana James,”…

  • Reviews of Elana with Bob Dylan’s band Spring 2005

    March 11th, 2005 at 5:59pm

    “This might be one of the finest touring bands Dylan’s ever had. The dominant instrumental voice is fiddler Elana [James],…

  • San Antonio Express-News First Etta, then Steve, now Elana James

    April 6th, 2006 at 6:31pm

    Jim Beal Jr. Elana James has a little explaining to do. What happened to Elana Fremerman? What happened to the…

  • The Lexington Herald – Leader Elana James: Fitting in and Breaking Out

    August 13th, 2006 at 7:03pm

    Lexington, KY By Walter Tunis, contributing music writer Elana James liked being prepared. Whether it was with the classical violin…

  • The Kansas City Star “There’s (listening) gold in these discs”

    January 18th, 2007 at 7:04pm

    They may not be chartbusters, but these soon-to-come CDs are sound winners. Elana James, “Elana James” (Snarf Records) Around here,…

  • Tuscaloosa News MUSIC REVIEW: Sexy and solo, Elana James back for self-titled debut

    January 21st, 2007 at 3:30am

    By Ben Windham , Editorial Editor “Elana James”(Snarf Records) Being gorgeous hasn’t hurt her career a bit but Elana James…

  • The Smoky Mountain News A Fiery Violinist Takes it Solo

    February 24th, 2007 at 7:08pm

    The Smoky Mountain News Elana James: Elana James A fiery violinist takes it solo by Chris Cooper January 24, 2007…

  • The Washington Times Plucky Newcomers Fiddling With Tradition

    January 26th, 2007 at 7:10pm

    The Washington Times Plucky newcomers fiddling with tradition By Scott Galupo January 26, 2007 Rock press hacks, glossy magazine list-compilers…

  • Austin Music Magazine

    March 14th, 2007 at 7:12pm

    Interview: Elana James By Patrick Cosgrove February/March 2007 Swing fiddler extraordinaire Elana James had what can only be called a…

  • The Kansas City Star

    February 26th, 2012 at 7:18pm

    By Timothy Finn Ex-Hot Club of Cowtown member gains experience going solo KANSAS CITY, Kan. _ The last time she…

  • The Chicago Sun Times

    February 27th, 2007 at 7:20pm

    By Dave Hoekstra, Staff Reporter No skirt-twirling allowed With new album, Dylan gig, Elana James reinvents her vibe Within a…

  • Associated Press

    March 20th, 2007 at 7:23pm

    March 2007 By Scott Bauer ELANA JAMES Elana James, Snarf Records Sun Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 Elana James,…

  • Country Standard Time – “Elana James” Review

    March 11th, 2007 at 7:25pm

    March 2007 By Don Armstrong Elana James – 2007 (Snarf) Elana James (nee Fremerman) has the kind of misfortune anyone…

  • Nashvile City Paper – CD Review

    March 11th, 2007 at 7:27pm

    March 2007 ELANA JAMES When she was offering dazzling violin solos and playing vintage Western swing and hot jazz with…

  • Nashville Scene – Preview

    March 1st, 2007 at 7:29pm

    Michael McCall “…..James, formerly of the Hot Club of Cowtown, goes the old-time gypsy-swing route. Her fiddle work is accessible…

  • The Californian (Salinas, California)

    March 2nd, 2007 at 7:30pm

    March 2, 2007 By Tom Leyde A new start for fantastic fiddle player Good things do happen to good people….

  • Austin Chronicle – “Elana James” Review

    March 5th, 2007 at 7:32pm

    Austin Chronicle March 5, 2007 BY JIM CALIGIURI Elana James (Snarf) (Three stars) Few people get to rebound from their…

  • Creative Loafing – The Deal: Cowgirl Gypsy jazz-infused western swing

    March 7th, 2007 at 7:34pm

    MARCH 7, 2007 By Grant Britt ELANA JAMES The Deal: Cowgirl Gypsy jazz-infused western swing The Good: For nearly eight…

  • The Berkshire Eagle – Best Bets: This female fiddler fronts her own band

    March 21st, 2007 at 7:34pm

    By Dave Madeloni, Special to The Eagle Best Bets This female fiddler fronts her own band If ever there was…

  • The Village Voice – A Dylan co-conspirator swings out of the past

    April 7th, 2007 at 7:36pm

    The Village Voice April 3, 2007 by Don Allred A Dylan Co-Conspirator Swings Out of the Past Elana James When…

  • LA Daily News – Preview

    April 6th, 2007 at 7:37pm

    LA Daily News April 6, 2007 Glen Whip ” . . a flavorful mix of originals and standards updating both…

  • Contra Costa Times (CA) – Dylan changed James’ life: Fiddler/vocalist almost gave up…

    April 12th, 2007 at 7:39pm

    Contra Costa Times (California) By Andrew Gilbert, Times Correspondent JAZZ TALK Dylan changed James’ life Fiddler/vocalist almost gave up on…

  • The San Diego Union-Tribune – James, music explorer, steps out on her own

    April 12th, 2007 at 7:40pm

    The San Diego Union-Tribune April 12, 2007 By Mikel Toombs James, music explorer, steps out on her own When we…

  • The Boston Globe – Going with the beat In New Haven….

    April 15th, 2007 at 7:42pm

    The Boston Globe April 15, 2007 Sunday By Steve Morse, Globe Correspondent Going with the beat In New Haven, the…

  • Strings Magazine – Bright Lights, Big City: Western Swing Fiddler Elana James is leaving…

    May 12th, 2007 at 7:44pm

    Strings Magazine May 2007 By Robert L. Doerschuk Encore Bright Lights, Big City: Western Swing Fiddler Elana James leaves Cowtown…

  • San Antonio Express News – Elana James Fiddles Around

    May 11th, 2007 at 7:48pm

    San Antonio Express News (Blog) May 3, 2007 By Jim Beal Elana James fiddles around Elana James knows how to…

  • Back to Rockville – Concert Review from the Kansas City Star’s online music blog

    May 21st, 2007 at 7:50pm

    Back to Rockville (Kansas City Star Music Blog) May 21, 2007 By Tim Finn Concert review: Elana James IIf the…

  • Washington Post – “Elana James Snarf”

    June 1st, 2007 at 7:52pm

    The Washington Post Friday, June 1, 2007 By Geoffrey Himes Elana James “Elana James” Snarf   ELANA JAMES USED to…

  • – “Song of the Day”

    July 13th, 2007 at 7:54pm “Song of the Day” July 13, 2007 By Claire Blaustein On “24 Hours a Day,” amid twangy strings, Elana…

  • Rolling Stone (Austrailia) – “Elana James”

    August 3rd, 2007 at 7:56pm

    Rolling Stone (Australia) August 2007 Elana James (Three-and-a-half Stars) Elana James/ Shock Records There is no mystery about how Texas…

  • Sydney Morning News – “Elana James”

    March 13th, 2008 at 7:57pm

    Sydney Morning News March 13, 2008 By Barry Divola Elana James: Work in a flat-pack furniture store or be the…

  • NPR Weekend Edition

    June 21st, 2011 at 2:58am

    A Texas Trio’s Tribute

    NPR Reporter John Burnett profiles the Hot Club of Cowtown’s Western swing roots, recorded live from historic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • Vintage Guitar

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:06am

    Hot Club Of Cowtown What Makes Bob Holler Proper Records Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and Django Reinhardt and…

  • San Diego Reader

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:43am

    Hot Club of Cowtown Blisters Fretboards
    By Dave Good | Published Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    “We lived in San Diego all of ’97,” says Whit Smith by phone from Delaware. As guitarist, Smith is one-third of the country-swing/hot-jazz group Hot Club of Cowtown. “We arrived New Year’s Day, 1997, and we lived in Pacific Beach.” Originally a duo of Smith and fiddler Elana James, the two started the group in New York and then moved west to build up their repertoire. “In no time, we were playing for tips in Balboa Park, and we played the Ocean Beach farmers’ market. And Café 976, when it was about half the size. Mostly, we played for tips. We didn’t even have a PA system — we just yelled out the words — and people would come and give us money, and all of the farmers’ market people would give us, you know, bread and apples and whatever. It was total bartering for a pleasant life. It was good.” In 1998, Smith and James relocated to Austin, Texas, and added bassist Jake Erwin.

    This year, Hot Club is touring in support of What Makes Bob Holler, a tribute to 1940s Western-swing icon Bob Wills. Smith agrees that, contrary to the clean image projected by Wills and his Texas Playboys, those guys were in truth hard-living, hardcore rock stars. “Oh, yeah. They were making cash every night, playing for big audiences and traveling around.” Smith says Wills, known for hollering during his shows, was an influence on their music.

    Hot Club of Cowtown holds with tradition, refusing to modernize, and the instrumental workouts are fretboard-blistering. Audiences that disdain country, says Smith, love the trio. “What people enjoy about us is that we’re sincere. The music’s got a lot of energy, and I think they like that.”

    HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN: AMSDconcerts, Thursday, April 28, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $20.

  • fRoots Magazine (UK)

    April 20th, 2011 at 11:24pm

  • Los Angeles Times

    February 16th, 2011 at 5:34pm

    Album review: Hot Club of Cowtown’s ‘What Makes Bob Holler’
    January 31, 2011 | 6:01 pm
    This long-running Austin, Texas, trio salutes Bob Wills, one if its two primary musical influences (the other being the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli) on this sweetly unassuming, live-in-the-studio trip through 14 numbers from the king of western swing’s repertoire.

    There’s a vintage sonic quality to the recording, which isn’t precious in the least, but befits the sprightly charm at the heart of Wills’ ebullient music. The empathy among fiddler-singer Elana James, guitarist-singer Whit Smith and bassist-singer Jake Erwin is evident throughout, a joyful camaraderie that also was a hallmark of the Texas Playboys’ appeal.

    Smith has an easy, everyman voice not unlike that of Gene Autry (rather than the heroic tenor of that other icon of western music, Roy Rogers) and James too relies on her earnest sincerity instead of vocal pyrotechnics, which have little place in this straight-from-the-wide-open-plain music. They mix haunting instrumental readings of “Faded Love” and “Maiden’s Prayer” with bouncy signature tunes such as “Stay a Little Longer” and some cherry-picked gems including “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.”

    Hot Club of Cowtown isn’t out to bowl listeners over with musical fireworks, but there are moments that might spur you to let loose with a hearty “Ah-haaaa!”

    —Randy Lewis

    Hot Club of Cowtown
    “What Makes Bob Holler”
    (Proper American)
    Three stars (Out of four)

  • Albany Times Union

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:12am

    Hot Club of Cowtown fires up The Linda with swing
    By Greg Haymes, Special to the Times Union
    Published 12:01 a.m., Friday, April 1, 2011

    ALBANY — Country music that swings? Jazz with a twang? When the high-flying Austin trio Hot Club of Cowtown ambled into the spotlight Wednesday night at WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, the nearly sold-out crowd was captivated from the opening notes of the zippy “She’s Killing Me.”

    As the band name indicates, the trio walks the line between the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt’s Quintette du Hot Club de France and the western swing of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. On Wednesday, they leaned more heavily toward the Bob Wills side — no surprise, considering their new album, “What Makes Bob Holler,” is a tribute to Wills and his magical music.

    In the realm of western swing, the fiddle is king. And on stage, fiddler Elana James was queen. Whether she was singing the Bob Wills gem “What’s the Matter With the Mill,” sawing through her bow hairs on the bluegrass warhorse “Orange Blossom Special” or crooning an old Rodgers and Hart nugget like “You Took Advantage of Me,” James was the focal point of the band, both musically and visually.

    That’s not to take anything away from Whit Smith, who spun marvelously inventive leads on his big old, f-hole, hollowbody guitar and sang lead on most of the band’s selections. His turn on “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” was masterful, as the band wove Cab Calloway-like jump ‘n’ jive with gospelesque call and response. He was just as commanding with his own woozy, late-night-creeping ballad “When I Lost You.”

    And, to be honest, the real secret weapon of the band is bassist Jake Erwin, who pummeled away at his big stand-up acoustic like a man possessed. Like any good slap-bassist — and he’s one of the best — he plays the role of both bassist and drummer with his percussive slapping and snapping of the strings. And while his lone lead vocal turn at the microphone on “Sweet Jenny Lee” certainly wasn’t about to win him any awards, he at least held his own.

    Although they never did get around to playing any Django tunes, they captured the darkly romantic edge of Gypsy jazz with a pair of flashy instrumentals: “Tchavolo Swing” and “Dark Eyes.” They ripped up some old-time fiddle tunes, too, including “Sally Goodin” and the hot-wired hoedown of “The Acorn Hill Breakdown.” And while most of the show centered around a jaunty, big bounce dance tempo, they could play sweet and slow, too, as they proved with a heavenly rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael classic, “Stardust.”

  • American Songwriter

    February 27th, 2011 at 7:34pm

    Hot Club of Cowtown: What Makes Bob Holler
    By Rick Moore February 8th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Hot Club of Cowtown
    What Makes Bob Holler
    Proper American Recordings
    Rating: Four Stars/Four

    Austin is known for a lot of great acts that have achieved international acclaim, but even more that most people don’t get much exposure to. One of those is the Hot Club of Cowtown, a trio that seamlessly blends the jazz sensibilities of Reinhardt and Grappelli’s Hot Club of France with the Western swing feel of the King of Western Swing himself, Bob Wills. On What Makes Bob Holler, the Hot Club of Cowtown turns in its versions of 14 songs once covered by, and some written by, Wills with his Texas Playboys, on what will be one of the albums to beat this year in the ever-expanding Americana field.

    The Hot Club of Cowtown is Whit Smith on guitar and vocals, Elana James on fiddle and vocals, and Jake Erwin on bass and background vocals, and the three are as instrumentally and vocally tight as any band out there working in any genre today. The album opens with “She’s Killing Me,” a great tune by a writer named Claude Nichols who apparently did little, if anything, else in the music business, but who at least had a Bob Wills cut. From the first note on James’ fiddle this uptempo number cooks, and Erwin absolutely slaps it to death it on a bass break.

    Other numbers include Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills,” Fred Rose’s “The Devil Ain’t Lazy,” and “It’s All Your Fault” by the legendary Cindy Walker, one of the earliest successful female songwriters who saw dozens of her songs recorded by Wills. Material that Wills had a hand in writing on this album includes “Osage Stomp,” “Maiden’s Prayer,” and “Stay a Little Longer” by Wills and Tommy Duncan, which has been recorded countless times by everyone from Willie Nelson to Mel Tillis. The intro of the Hot Club of Cowtown’s treatment of this song almost threatens to enter rockabilly territory, but ends up following a seamless arrangement and great harmonies that are a lot truer to Wills’ 1945 version than probably anything that followed. And any album paying tribute to Wills, cliché as it may seem, would be incomplete without a version of his hit “Faded Love,” presented here as a solid fiddle instrumental that offers nothing new, which is probably as it should be with such a classic.

    The excellent three players of this band could be doing anything but have chosen to honor the greats of jazz and swing with their sound. Reportedly recorded in three days, and obviously without many overdubs in such a short span, What Makes Bob Holler is an excellent recording by three skilled musicians who can seemingly just tune up and play, something that’s becoming increasingly rare these days. If you’re a fan of Wills, Reinhardt, or Asleep at the Wheel, this album should make you holler, too. Available on Proper American Recordings, whose roster features award-winning musicians like Tim O’Brien and Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.

  • Los Angles Daily News

    February 27th, 2011 at 7:46pm

    What Makes Bob Holler 3 1/2 STARS
    Hot Club of Cowtown

    Probably around the 10,000th tribute album to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, this young, tight trio’s version nicely balances good, less-covered songs (“She’s Killing Me,” “The Devil Ain’t Lazy”) with the usual suspects (“Stay a Little Longer,” a lovely all-instrumental “Faded Love” and the inevitable – especially for this band – “Big Ball in Cowtown”). Hot Club has sounded a little precious on previous recordings, but this full-out blast of classic Western swing seems to have loosened it up just enough to make ’em play like they’re at a real party. And Elana James’ voice never rang clearer, more precise and casually authoritative.

  • Mountain Stage (NPR)

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:37am

    Hot Club Of Cowtown On Mountain Stage

    Listen to the show here.

    Hot Club of Cowtown formed in 1996 after singer/guitarist Whit Smith responded to an advertisement placed by singer and fiddler Elana James. The pair moved to Austin in 1998, and began playing with a series of bass players before solidifying the lineup with bassist Jake Erwin in 2000.

    The Western swing band kicks off its fourth Mountain Stage appearance with the classic “Stay All Night” from its new album, What Makes Bob Holler. Inspired by the sound and style of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hot Club of Cowtown’s live repertoire has expanded to include a substantial amount of original material (Whit Smith’s “Sleep”) and cover songs from artists like Tom Waits, whose tune “The Long Way Home” is included here.

  • New York Times

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:38am

    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…


    April 21st, 2011 at 12:34am

    What Makes Bob Holler
    The Hot Club of Cowtown

    by j. poet

    It’s hard to imagine why it’s taken the Hot Club of Cowtown so long to record a tribute album to Bob Wills. Their Django-meets-Wills style makes the idea a natural, and when they’ve covered Wills in the past — either tunes he wrote or tunes associated with the Texas Playboys — they’ve always brought a modern sensibility to the tunes that makes them sound brand new. As a trio, they have to be resourceful to get the kind of full sound Wills got with his ensemble, but they’re up to the task. When this album was released in the U.K. in November of 2010, it jumped into the Top Ten and stayed there for weeks. “Big Balls in Cowtown” is a good example of the trio’s method. Elana James lays out three impressive fiddle solos and Whit Smith’s nimble guitar captures the essence of Eldon Shamblin’s Django-esque lines, but finds his own way of making the strings sing. The band rewrites the lyrics using verses from other cowboy tunes, and a few of their own which are in keeping with their suggestive renaming of the song. Smith and James duet on “Time Changes Everything” then Smithdrops a solo that brings to mind the electric mandolin work of Tiny Moore. Smith’s guitar solo takes “Oklahoma Hills” to Paris, then drops a quote from “Dixie” into his run. James is just as inventive and slips a bit of “The Hawaiian War Chant” into her solo. Bass man Jake Erwin shines on “Stay a Little Longer,” his double-time slap bass solo closes the set on a high note.

  • Uncut (UK)

    April 20th, 2011 at 11:40pm

  • The Sunday Times (UK)

    February 20th, 2011 at 11:50pm

    Hot Club of Cowtown and their western swing
    Whit Smith, Jake Erwin, Elana James and Damien Llanes inspired by Sinatra, Stéphane Grappelli and Led Zeppelin
    by Clive Davis
    We’re all basically just music nerds,” says Whit Smith with an apologetic smile. As if to prove the point, he and his colleagues begin to list the musicians who would be their desert-island choices. A hardcore jazzer, Smith opts for Coleman Hawkins, early Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong’s recordings from the late 1920s. He loves Frank Sinatra, too. The bassist, Jake Erwin, chips in with the Texan crossover legend, Bob Wills. The singer and violinist Elana James — somewhat nervous about being thought too commercial — opts for Paul Simon as well as Stéphane Grappelli. And Damien Llanes, the drummer who has temporarily become a fourth member of the line-up, chooses the unorthodox trinity of Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye.

    In other words, categories and labels mean little to Hot Club of Cowtown. One of the drawbacks of being members of the world’s most engaging “western swing” band is that people who have not heard the group’s work tend to assume it must be painfully esoteric. After all, for better or worse, the very mention of the word “jazz” tends to make many people’s eyes glaze over. Much the same is true of country music. Given that the Hot Club’s repertoire is based on a fusion of the values of vintage jazz and the Grand Ole Opry, it might seem that their fan base is, by its nature, hopelessly limited. Once you hear the group in action, however, all those worries instantly become irrelevant. Their shows are all about energy and joie de vivre.

    A song that is 70 years old can still lift the spirits of a 17-year-old if it is played with enough spirit.

    “There’s a certain language we stay away from as much as possible when we talk about what we do,” Smith says as he and the rest of the band sit in the cramped and decidedly unglamorous dressing room at Dingwalls, in Camden, north London. “If we tell people we play western swing and they aren’t familiar with the term, they may never come along to our show, because they might imagine it’s going to be a modern country thing, or they might associate it with a bad experience they had at some western theme park.

    “Besides, our influences are not entirely obvious. It’s like with Led Zeppelin, for example: they were listening to, what, skiffle and Moroccan music, but you wouldn’t put them in a skiffle festival or a Moroccan festival. I like to think we can adapt different influences and be authentic at the same time, so that people who like jazz can say, ‘I don’t know what they’re doing now, but that was good jazz they were playing.’”

    Favourites of Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan — who invited them to join them on the road — the Hot Club have certainly not been an overnight success story. A full decade and a half has passed since James, a classically trained violinist who was searching for a new artistic direction, placed an ad in the music section of The Village Voice. Enter Smith, a passionate jazznik, who introduced James to the wonders of the effervescent, improvised music created more than half a century earlier by Django Reinhardt and Grappelli in their celebrated Quintette du Hot Club de France.

    A year went by before the duo even played their first gig — at a wedding. Erwin arrived on the scene a little later. After settling in Austin, Texas, home to a cosmopolitan music scene, the young adventurers dug deeper into the roots of western swing, the devil-may-care style that combined the rigour of jazz with the down-home sentiment of country and the earthiness of the blues.

    The Hot Club released their debut album a decade ago, but it is as a live act that they have made the greatest impact. Their audiences are a curious bunch, a sprinkling of jazz buffs, Hank Williams devotees and people who may have caught them jamming on Jools Holland’s television show.

    One of the joys of the group is that you never quite know which direction the performers will pursue next. One of their most distinctive recordings was a melancholy back-porch cover of that quintessential Aerosmith rock anthem Chip Away the Stone. Smith and James concede that they are often at loggerheads over which way to jump. The Aerosmith number, for instance, seldom gets an airing on stage, because Smith prefers jazzier, more traditional fare.

    As James puts it, with a meaningful glance towards her colleague: “We don’t play it live, unfortunately, except when it’s requested. But I think music ought to be kind of like a garden. Most of what you’re growing there can be green, but a couple of other colours are what makes it interesting to look at. I often feel like I’m the one who wants to try a number that’s not strictly in the idiom that the band is known for. I think it’s a way of introducing ourselves to people who aren’t familiar with this kind of music.”

    With James pulling in one direction, and Smith tugging the opposite way, Erwin seems to be used to being in the middle. “He’s got a bruise on both eyes,” quips Smith. The new album, Wishful Thinking, is one of their most polished efforts so far. But to catch the Hot Club at full temperature, you really need to see the group in the flesh.

    The album Wishful Thinking is released on the Proper label. For details of the Hot Club’s UK tour, visit

  • No Depression

    April 21st, 2011 at 12:00am

    Hot Club of Cowtown ‘What makes Bob Holler’
    Posted by Alan Harrison on February 3, 2011 at 7:30am

    Hot Club of Cowtown
    What Makes Bob Holler
    Proper Records PRPCD071

    Flawless Western Swing and Jazz fusion as the Hot Club return to their roots.

    A new Hot Club of Cowtown release is a pretty big deal in these circles and as my detractors probably believe I don’t know enough about Country music to do such a record justice (as if!) I invited two friends who are HCCT fans around for a listen on Sunday morning.

    In fairness I learnt a lot about Western Swing at the Gateshead Sage Americana Festival in July 2010 when what I thought was ‘Time-Warp’ music was actually ‘timeless’ as four very young bands played their own delightful interpretations with great passion and gusto; making me want to hear even more.

    Opening track She’s Killing Me throws down a marker to tell you that WHAT MAKES BOB HOLLER is going to be something really special as the band flings everything they have at a full tilt Western Swing tune that had even my toes tapping.

    The pace never lets up as Whit, Elana and Jake alternate on vocals with Elana winning my heart on the Jazzy Time Changes Everything and the beautiful Keeper of My Heart which could easily have been a Patsy Cline tune.
    The Country Music experts in the room weren’t as easily swayed by a pretty girl and tried desperately to convince me that the best tunes were actually Big Ball in Cowtown, Along the Navajo Trail (which sounded like it should have been in a John Wayne film!), It’s All Your Fault (Elana again – swoon) and The Devil Ain’t Lazy which are all trademark Hot Club tunes in the style of Bob Wills which is the theme of the whole album.

    Another couple of tunes that deserve a mention are Maidens’ Prayer and Faded Love, two instrumentals that could easily have been by the original Hot Club de Paris and the final toe tapper Stay a Little Longer which will surely be the song that ends their gigs in October.

    WHAT MAKES BOB HOLLER won’t be in my final Top 10 albums of 2010 but I have found it very enjoyable and if you even vaguely like Western Swing or the Hotclub of Cowtown you will absolutely love it as it simply sizzles and simpers with Whit Smith’s effortlessly cool guitar playing, Elana James’ elastic fingered fiddle and Jake Erwin’s happy-slappy upright bass; not to mention some of the most enchanting harmonies I’ve heard in a long time.
    Originally posted in Maverick Magazine

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer

    February 27th, 2011 at 7:38pm

    Posted on Sun, Feb. 13, 2011
    New Recordings


    Hot Club of Cowtown
    What Makes Bob Holler
    (Proper American ***)
    The “Bob” in the title is, of course, Bob Wills, the American music titan whose Western swing, made with his Texas Playboys, is one of the prime inspirations for Hot Club of Cowtown. And what the trio of fiddler Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith, and bassist Jake Erwin do with Wills’ music would no doubt make Bob let out his trademark “Ah-haaa!” (Especially if Hot Club’s efforts send listeners to seek out the originals, as they should.)

    The trio gets to the essence of Wills’ appeal with a set that approximates the live-in-the-studio immediacy of Wills and the Playboys’ radio transcriptions, while providing a showcase for the members’ own instrumental virtuosity, whether it’s James and Smith dueling on “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” or Erwin taking the spotlight on the instrumental “Osage Stomp.”

    With the more familiar material, Hot Club seems to make an extra effort to provide a fresh angle. Smith and James, who generally alternate lead vocals, tackle “Time Changes Everything” as a duet, while “Faded Love” is done as an instrumental, James’ mournful fiddle carrying the melody.

    – Nick Cristiano

  • The Guardian (UK)

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:34am

    The Hot Club have always had one foot in the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt, the other in the western swing of 40s Texas. Here, the New York trio offer a sweet tribute to the latter, specifically to swing king Bob Wills…

  • The Onion

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:27am

    Austin trio Hot Club Of Cowtown sounds like it’s spent the last 40 years in tiny rural clubs. The group’s…

  • Tulsa Today

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:25am

    Friday night at the PAC, was so much more then what I was expecting. I walked in to a completely full house. As I was finding my seat, the gentlemen on stage was inducting a few people into the Fiddlers Hall of Fame…

  • The Herald (Scotland)

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:22am

    As well as coming up with one of the most appropriate entries in the band names lexicon, Hot Club of Cowtown appear to have shrunk the week into two days. The mood created by this trio based in Austin, Texas, now augmented by the judicious drumming of Damien Llanes, is generally associated with the traditional hair-letting-down nights of Friday and Saturday…

  • The Sydney Morning Herald

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:20am

    Loosen your shirt collars, gentlemen. Ease off the coats, ladies. And, waiter, top up those sarsparillas. It’s time to enjoy yourselves…

  • Houston Press

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:18am

    It’s been over a decade since Hot Club of Cowtown formed and became an instant hit with fans of country…

  • Word Magazine (UK)

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:16am

    It’s not like me to go all evangelical, but last night I saw a gig that I have to rank up beside Bob Marley & The Wailers at Glasgow Apollo: Hot Club of Cowtown at Glasgow ABC. It was one of those where you nearly don’t go – can’t be bothered putting your boots on – but you think, Oh it might be fun, and make the effort…

  • The New York Times

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:14am

    Perhaps the first thing one notices when listening to the Hot Club of Cowtown is its lack of irony, self-consciousness and forced hipness in embracing a style of music that so easily lends itself to such things. On the trio’s fourth album, ”Ghost Train” (Hightone), the band not only cavorts with string-band jazz and western swing, but it also performs the Aerosmith song ”Chip Away the Stone” in this style — with tongue firmly out of cheek…

  • Aquarian Weekly

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:11am

    Hot Club of Cowtown is a band that seems to imagine American pop music as if time was stopped in the mid-1950s. It’s a country band without a shred of modernity or relevance, and it’s exactly this (along with some serious talent) that makes them a refreshing antidote to commercial country. Wishful Thinking combines Great American Songbook-style wit with traditional American instrumentation, and the result is a delightfully honest record…

  • Washington Times

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:06am

    After a few years of solo and side projects, including a formative stint in Bob Dylan’s band, fiddle player extraordinaire…

  • Relix

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:05am

    After more than a decade of recording and performing, it’s well established that the three members of Hot Club of…

  • The Groove

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:04am

    At the Americana conference this year I discovered a trio of young musicians who will appeal to fans of Western…

  • Maximum Ink

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:02am

    A phoenix rising from nests of effervescent finesse, “Wishful,” is packed with upbeat pluck, down-home charm and gracious glissando. Swinging between cocktail country, lonesome folk and chipper pitch-perfect jive, HCOC concoct a spiffy, hep-cat burlesque that addresses modern life in undulating harmonies. Catch the toe-tapping trio playing Beaver Dam October 20th.

  • Bluegrass Special

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:01am

    When you say “the spirit of Bob Wills lives on” today, the natural inclination of fans of the King of Western Swing is to think, justifiably so, of Grammy-gobbling Asleep At the Wheel and its venerable frontman, Ray Benson. A dutiful steward of the Wills legacy, Benson and his various Wheel aggregates have more than earned the many plaudits and awards bestowed on them through the years. But also out there, less honored and working on a smaller scale–as in a trio instead of a big band format–but being no less diligent about flying the flag for western swing with solid playing, strong original material supplementing beloved standards, along with imaginative arranging and affecting singing, is the Hot Club of Cowtown. Back on record after a five-year hiatus, Cowtowners Elana James and Whit Smith discuss their new album and renewed enthusiasm for carrying on together…

  • Austin Chronicle

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:58am

    They broke up in 2005, but Wishful Thinking proves the Hot Club of Cowtown belongs together. Fiddler Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith, and stand-up bassist Jake Erwin haven’t made a studio album together since 2002’s Ghost Train, yet here the local trio reaches another level of musicality…

  • New York Times

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:51am

    The debonair music that the violinist Stéphane Grapelli and the guitarist Django Reinhardt forged at the Hot Club of France in the 1930’s became a paragon of jazz that challenges musicians while delighting audiences. Two trios — uptown and down-home — brought their own sequels to that music to Manhattan last week. Jazz at Lincoln Center presented the violinist Mark O’Connor and his Hot Swing Trio at Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday night, while the Hot Club of Cowtown, from Austin, Tex., performed on Thursday night at the Rodeo Bar…

  • Tulsa World

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:49am

    The band’s sound of ’30s Paris jazz clubs and boot-tappin’ cowboy melodies came to Tulsa in 2004. The three-piece act opened for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson at Drillers Stadium and headlined their own show at Cain’s a few months later…

  • Blurt

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:46am

    If their name conjures up a certain old time feel, Hot Club Of Cowtown come about it from a perspective that allows entitlement and authenticity. Combining elements of bluegrass, western swing, ragtime and torch song laments, this nimble trio deftly conveys jaunty fiddle fueled hoedowns of both original and vintage variety…

  • Daily Record

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:42am

    When Elana James was growing up in Kansas City, you could usually find her in Westport on the weekends. After checking out the bookstore, window shopping for clothes or catching a movie she’d take out her violin and busk.

    What James played, though, wasn’t the classical music she’d been trained. James’ bow bounced to old timey fiddle music meant for dancing. And it tormented her…

  • Jazziz Magazine

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:40am

    It’s been five years since the Hot Club of Cowtown came out with an album of new material. With the…

  • Country Standard Time

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:37am

    Hot Club of Cowtown is a complex band filled with surprises. Evidence: The two singers trade off lead vocals, but the band also plays a lot of instrumentals. They’ve been successful as a traditional guitar, violin and stand-up bass combo, but recently added a drummer to mix things up on their latest CD, “Wishful Thinking.”…

  • Acoustic Guitar

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:34am

    On their fourth CD, Austin’s Hot Club of Cowtown blends western swing, Tin Pan Alley songs, and Gypsy jazz into a new acoustic fusion filled with passion and great playing…

  • Australia Music Guide

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:32am

    This year’s Bluesfest smash, the Hot club – as the name suggests – is an amalgam of western swing, country,…

  • Scotsman News Story on Hot Club of Cowtown

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:29am

    4 Stars from the Scotsman News

  • Colorado Springs Independent

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:31am

    For many of us, the name “Hot Club of Cowtown” doesn’t necessarily conjure up visions of a sophisticated, original world music band.

    You may think of North Carolina hoedowns.

    You may think of Colorado Springs’ own Flying W Wranglers.

    You may, like me, end up with the “Woody’s Roundup” theme from Toy Story 2 stuck in your head as you prepare to interview the band.

    Boy, don’t you feel dumb?

    Within two minutes of talking with Elana James, fiddler and vocalist for Hot Club of Cowtown, it was plain that I needed to stop thinking “regional music” and start thinking “global phenomenon.” Hot Club’s sound is nothing if not international…

  • The Guardian (London)

    December 29th, 2010 at 2:45am

    It takes considerable bravery to name your band after one of the greatest jazz ensembles of the last century. Hot Club get away with it because they have spirit, originality and skill that would surely have impressed Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s…


Upcoming Shows

06/09 9:00 AM
Elana James 28th Annual Montana Fiddle Camp Monarch, MT Buy Tickets
06/10 9:00 AM
Elana James 28th Annual Montana Fiddle Camp Monarch, MT Buy Tickets
06/11 9:00 AM
Elana James 28th Annual Montana Fiddle Camp Monarch, MT Buy Tickets