Back to Rockville (Kansas City Star Music Blog)
May 21, 2007
By Tim Finn
Concert review: Elana James
IIf the world were closer to perfect, a lot more people would know about the talents and skills of Elana James.
The guest list this evening was easily three times longer than the set list. Or more to the point: When Elana James thanked her family and friends for showing up for an early-evening performance at Davey’s Uptown on Saturday, she was talking to the overwhelming majority of the crowd (about 100 people).
Most of them know her as Elana Fremerman, and most have known her since back in the days when she played classical music on her violin, not sizzling country/swing on her fiddle.
Saturday’s show was a homecoming and an inauguration: The last time James played in her hometown she was part of Hot Club of Cowtown, a Western swing trio that opened for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson out out at the Kansas City T-Bones baseball park. That was in September 2004. Since then, Hot Club has broken up and James has started her own trio, changed her name and released her own self-titled album.
Saturday she and her Continental Two performed for nearly 90 minutes before a crowd that also included many Hot Club fans, who must have been pleased with what they heard. James’ sound has changed from Hot Club’s hot jazz/swing roots into a sound that further emphasizes her considerable skills on the fiddle and her lead vocals, which have evolved considerably since the earliest days of Hot Club. (Our friend Corky Carrel of Village Records, www.villagerecords.com, who shot this photo Saturday, compares her voice to jazz/cabaret singer Blossom Dearie).
Still, there are similarities to Hot Club, starting with lead guitarist (and ex-Hot Clubber) Whit Smith, who has re-joined James on stage. The other member of the trio: stand-up bassist Beau Sample.
The set list was a mix of James’ solo material (“Twenty Four Hours a Day,” “One More Night,” “Down the Line”), traditional songs (“Cotton Eyed Joe”), famous covers (Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills”) and a cut or two from her Hot Club days (“Emily” and their molten version of “Ida Red”).
A few of the best moments, however, were the instrumentals, especially “Eva’s Waltz” and the two’ gypsy-jazz hoedowns. James’ voice has evolved nicely into a lead instrument, but her fiddle skills are absolutely world-class. She’s personable and funny, too. Her riff on her “friends” at MySpace was especially funny. It’s a genuine wonder she’s not as famous as others with equal or less talents who fill bigger venues with as much help from strangers as from family and friends.