HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN GOES WILD
ON FIRST ALBUM OF ORIGINAL MATERIAL IN TEN YEARS:
AUSTIN, Tex. — Something magical happens when the sultry hot jazz made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli meets the hard-driving Western swing sound pioneered by Bob Wills and early string bands of the American Southwest. The ear-catching result of this surprising marriage is the Hot Club of Cowtown, the effervescent Austin-based trio beloved for more than two decades by devoted fans across the United States and around the world. Romantic and rhythmic, happy-making and heart-breaking, sophisticated and elegant while still down-to-earth and rugged, the Hot Club of Cowtown now returns with its much-anticipated eleventh album, an enticing new collection of original compositions (plus a few inspired standards) entitled Wild Kingdom.
Whit Smith, the band’s dexterous guitarist, embodies the spirit of early jazz players like Charlie Christian in both his vintage gear and his high-flying fretwork. Upright bass player Jake Erwin is a rhythm powerhouse who keeps the beat with determination and gusto, slapping that bass like it owes him money. Elana James rounds out the trio with sweet, inviting vocals and the astounding fiddle playing that leaves audiences reeling. As the Hot Club of Cowtown, these three talented and charismatic performers have been entertaining audiences for twenty-one years— along the way winning Ameripolitan Awards, touring with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and representing the United States in international showcases from Azerbaijan to the Sultanate of Oman.
The Hot Club got its start in 1994 in New York City, when Whit Smith answered a classified ad that Elana James placed in the Village Voice looking for musicians who shared her eclectic tastes and dedication to traditional music. The pair’s first collaboration was a full Western swing orchestra, but they soon decided they preferred the group’s sound when it was pared down to its essential elements. After making the move to Austin, the Hot Club released its first studio album, Swingin’ Stampede, in 1998, followed quickly by three more: Tall Tales, Dev’lish Mary, and Ghost Train. In 2003, Jake Erwin completed the band’s line-up, appearing on the rollicking live album Continental Stomp, and the trio as we now know it was formed. In 2004, the Hot Club of Cowtown was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, and the band continued to tour and record, releasing compilations, appearing on soundtracks, and honing its high-energy live show.
Since 2011, the Hot Club of Cowtown has been revisiting its roots, releasing three acclaimed albums dedicated exclusively to the music that influenced and shaped the band’s sound — artists like Bob Wills, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Bing Crosby, and Cindy Walker. Most recently, the Hot Club branched out to issue Crossing the Great Divide, a seven-song EP reimagining classic tunes by The Band on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the release of The Band’s two most influential records, The Band and Music From Big Pink.
Now, just in time for an extensive fall tour through the United States and the United Kingdom, the Hot Club of Cowtown returns with its most exciting record yet, a powerful collection of eleven brand-new original songs plus three traditional band favorites. Wild Kingdom is a true marvel, packed with musical virtuosity and dazzling songwriting, anchored by a sound that is both decidedly traditional and wildly original. Certain to delight both their army of seasoned fans and a brand new audience of Hot Club novices, Wild Kingdom is a fitting return to form by one of the most essential bands in traditional American music.
Peel back the wrapper on Wild Kingdom and you’ll find the first of several songs by James, “My Candy,” which sets the stage for the kind of retro-simplicity that the band’s fans love and expect as Elana does some sweet talking about how she loves her candy more than any old tootsie roll or Charleston chew. James’s waltz “Last Call” is a drinking-song melody with beautiful lyrics about finally being called home by God. James’s “Near Mrs.” is a classic list song a la “All My Exes Live in Texas” (and includes a surprising name-drop of a famous country star you won’t want to miss!), while the chugging country rhythm of “Tall Tall Ship” offers an irrepressible sing-along almost divinely bestowed for a drive up the California coast with the top down. “Rodeo Blues” uses the metaphor of the pickup rider in a rodeo as the savior in a relationship and “High Upon the Mountain” paints a picture of nature’s power to make us look inward and consider the stillness around us in contrast to the turmoil in our lives. “Before the Time of Men” is a complex mix of central Asian flair and manouche jazz that celebrates the magic of what a horse-hair instrument can do while mourning the incredible loss of life and beauty that takes place when man dominates creatures and land.
While James’s offerings for the most part tend to look toward romantic love and relationships, albeit sometimes in the afterlife, Whit Smith’s originals embrace the existential and offer a tart complement: “Caveman” draws a swinging portrait of the titular prehistoric character who becomes famous for his cave paintings. In “Billy the Kid,” we travel in time to the instant the famous outlaw’s life flashes before his eyes as he’s gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett, and Smith’s “Ways of Escape” is a uniquely bluesy reminder to get back on track with our most cherished dreams, while in “Easy Money” Smith shrugs off a gold-digging girlfriend he can’t help but love.
Three band favorites also made the cut for Wild Kingdom, each showing off the trio’s intricate, exuberant arrangements of three-part vocal harmonies and guitar and fiddle twin lines, including the 1930s theme from the eponymous film “Three Little Words,” a swinging version of the traditional “Loch Lomond” which rides a wistful folk melody through the steep sides of the blustery Scottish highlands, and an inspired cover of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “How High the Moon.”
With the release of Wild Kingdom, the Hot Club of Cowtown will be proving once more their unparalleled ability to take a diverse range of well-established genres and breathe new life into them through a healthy dose of buoyancy, joy, and blazing virtuosity.