March 2, 2007
By Tom Leyde
A new start for fantastic fiddle player
Good things do happen to good people. Just ask Elana James.
James this week released her first solo album, “Elana James,” and is on a United States tour promoting it.
That’s quite a feat considering she had no idea what she was going to do a couple of years ago.
For nearly 10 years,?James was one-third of the group Hot Club of Cowtown, a high-energy swingtrio with country twang that appeared in 2003 at the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.
In 2004, the group was touring with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan when she and guitarist Whit Smith decided to split at the tour’s end.
But just when things seemed darkest, Dylan asked the talented fiddle player and vocalist to join his band.
“When I got that call,” she says in a news release, “I was so ecstatic that I felt like God and reached down out of heaven and anointed me with a golden wand.”
James did two tours with Dylan, who gave her a prominent place in the show.
Next month, she will bring her own show to the Monterey and San Francisco Bay areas.
She will be at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage on April 15, Don Quixote’s Intl Music Hall in Felton on April 16 and the Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco on April 20. And if you want to see her sooner, she will play Newman’s West Side Theatre on April 14.
The first time I saw James perform was with Hot Club of Cowtown at the Monterey Cowboy show. I immediately bought one of the group’s albums and still enjoy it, especially her fiddle solos and vocals. She is a captivating and exciting performer and musician.
Now based in Austin, Texas, James’ debut album includes originals and standards. And she is backed by some stellar musicians, most notably, legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble, who showed up to the recording studio on his 80th birthday.
Gimble does a twin fiddle sound with James on “Silver Bells.”
Other songs include “Twenty-Four Hours a Day,” “One More Night,” “The Little Green Valley” “I Don’t Mind” and “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good”).
“What’s nice about launching something on my own is that I don’t have to worry about whether my bandmates think it’s inappropriate, or too similar to something else,” James says on her Web site. “And because I’m kind of starting over with new fans, I don’t have to worry about alienating anybody. It’s kind of a freeing situation – you do what you do because you want to do it. If peoplelike it, that’s fantastic, but that wasn’t my first priority. As a matter of fact, in writing these songs, the most important thing was how they’re going to come off live. And that’s what’s nice about the record, too. The songs are fun to play – I tried to write them in such a way that they’re not too complicated -and yet everybody can shine.”