MARCH 7, 2007
By Grant Britt
ELANA JAMES The Deal: Cowgirl Gypsy jazz-infused western swing
The Good: For nearly eight years, Elana James rode the range as the fiddlin’ third of the Hot Club of Cowtown. When the band broke up in 2004, Dylan tapped her as the first female instrumentalist in 30 years to join his band to tour ballparks with him and Willie. On her self-titled debut, James sings like Deana Carter channeling Billie Holliday on horseback. Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” features a breathless, sophisticated delivery suitable for a late-night, smoky jazz club. Ragtime piano composer Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You” is delivered with a sultry vocal that would seem more at home with a cocktail piano than a fiddle, but James makes it mesh. “All The World and I” sounds for all the world like an outtake from a Carter Family album, complete with Mother Maybelle’s autoharp. When she picks up the fiddle, she echoes Bob Wills’ fiddler Johnny Gimble with a touch of Django’s gypsy jazz. She even tackles Gimble’s arrangement of “Silver Bells,” swinging it as easily as the nimble Gimble, who costars with her on the cut.
The Bad: There’s nothing bad to report here. No matter what your genre preference, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Though James is rooted in western swing, she’s plenty flexible bending those roots into jazz and country. Her smooth, cocktail-hour vocals settle you back comfortably in your chair after a gallop along the fenceline with Django and Gimble.
The Verdict: No matter what your trip, Elana James is a good ride-along companion.