Hot Club of Cowtown (from the album of Rendezvous in Rhythm) - There is an assimilation that affects immigrants in film and productions about the mass influx of humanity circa 1900 New York City. Story lines from Ragtime to An American Tail show men, women and children entering into new lands, bringing a fresh cargo of tradition and history.
As time moves on, the immigrant becomes the native. No blood lines are crossed, but the old merges with the new without losing what has gone before. Hot Club of Cowtown manage to accomplish that cultural middle ground in the space of one song in “Ochi Chornye”, the album opener from their upcoming release, Rendezvous in Rhythm. The tune, with the sometimes Anglicized name of “Dark Eyes”, opens up to a fiddle fit for a traveling caravan making its way through middle Europe. As the fiddle reels and curves, the western swing that has been a huge part of Hot Club of Cowtown’s history begins to surface.
Hot Club of Cowtown take an album-long look at the Gypsy Jazz and French Swing of 1930’s Paris. Rendezvous in Rhythm was recorded in the hot jazz style of master violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt. Hot Club of Cowtown are an Austin, TX band and the album was recorded on home turf with production by Lloyd Maines at the Zone Recording Studio in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Rendezvous … lets the virtuosity of Elana James (fiddle/vocals), Whit Smith (guitar/vocals) and Jake Erwin (bass/background vocals) stretch out on songs that were meant for expanded riffing and playing. There is a purity in the playing; the notes are crisp, each tone individual. The production work certainly helps separate and then join the instruments, but the secret weapon is the artistry of Hot Club of Cowtown.
Standards such as “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “Melancholy Baby” are aired out in the same way they may have sounded in Left Bank cabarets and bars. The sound seems a natural progression for Hot Club of Cowtown as witnessed in the ease with which the band unfurls a gypsy sail for “Slow Boat to China”, follows a bass heartbeat to break in some new dance moves in “The Continental” and reminisces into a bottle of red at a café table about being “Back in Your Own Backyard”.
Musically, the collection of Gypsy and American Songbook standards might not seem a likely fit for a band form Austin. Elana James is used to extremes making the whole. Her past includes studying classical music at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, France and wrangling horses in Colorado. Elana explains that “our band is fiddle, guitar and bass, and they can do anything together. We’ve always played a combination of Jazz and Western swing, but it’s really been a joy to finally distill part of our essence and serve up a record that is purely jazzy.
That Hot Club of Cowtown found time to enter the studio with Lloyd Maines at all last July shows the group’s determination. They have toured for the U.S. State Department as musical ambassadors in Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Republic of Georgia and the Sultanate of Oman. Both Elana James and Hot Club of Cowtown have played and toured with Bob Dylan, and HCC was on board for the Dylan/Willie Nelson tour, as well as opening seven nights on the sold out Roxy Music U.K. stadium tour. DANNY McCLOSKEY/RA