May 8, 2006
by Janet Ashley
The Hot Club of Cowtown — it’s surely the most evocative and original band name in country music and, if only for that reason, there was sadness when Elana Fremerman’s musical partnership with Whit Smith broke up two years ago. But in Brighton, it was clear that Elana had moved on. She has dropped her challenging surname in favour of the more pithy Elana James, taken on two young sidemen and added to her already extensive repetoire of traditional, classic and original songs.
James’ arrival brought us a stunning stage appearance. Wearing a clinging ruched black halterneck dress and high, high sandals, she inhabited the stage as if it were her personal kingdom, a place where she was both comfortable and in command. After taking her claim with Beaumont Rag, she swung into the Hirsch and Rose standard, ‘Deed I Do,’ introducing us to her irresistibly slinky, purring vocal style.
James has been quoted as saying that “I like to do what I was doing (in the Hot Club of Cowtown)” and pretty soon it was claear that the spirit of Hot Club lived on: this trio’s approach was just as much fun — and they performed with just as much musical mastery. Their repetoire took in Elana’s enthusiasm for hot jazz and Western swing and included songs from the Hot Club days as well as newly written songs and newly selected classics.
Elana’s new companions, both Texans, looked to be having a great time playing with her. Beau Sample — who lived up to his name, I couldn’t help noticing — played upright bass. His rockabilly roots were easy to spot, but his smooth singing style had a flavour of Harry Connick — till he gave us a lively renditino of Tex Williams’ Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette. Luke Hill was a little less assured vocally, but stunned on guitar.
It’s not so long ago that Hot Club of Cowtown sold out the Komedia. This was a good-sized crowd, but gave the impression that Elana and the boys have a way to go before they regain the ground they lost with that name. Shouldn’t take too long, though — they’re hot.