Hot Club of Cowtown - Hot Jazz and Western Swing


Take a look at what people have been saying about us!

“[Elana’s voice] just flows with 1930s wonderment, it has an underlying sexiness that draws the listeners in until each and every one is caught in her musical spell…”

David Knowles
Maverick Magazine

“I doubt that many rock bands expend more energy in their playing, but what I admire most here is the unified point of view: a nostalgic love of western swing, big-band crooning, ragtime, even jazz improvisation.”

Marc Mickelson

“The young band distinguishes itself by its technical musicianship and vast acreage of diverse styles alone, but it seals the deal on stage, subtly and methodically casting aside the audience’s daily worries and levitating the room into a dreamy salon of carefree abandon. Even the heartbreak songs are served sunny-side up.”

Derek Raymaker
Toronto Globe & Mail

“Unfussy and unpretentious, their blend of down-home melodies and exuberant improvisation harks back to a lost era of so-called western swing. When they plunge into Orange Blossom Special your thoughts turn not so much to runaway trains as to a B-52 tearing up a runway.”

Clive Davis
The Times (London)

“Working in such tradition, the Hot Club of Cowtown can burn, playing fast and furious driving rhythms at break-neck pace, and the wild abandon of Whit’s fleet-fingered solos improvised over dangerous changes can leave a listener slack-jawed and winded.”

Baker Rorick
Guitar Magazine

“The timing, swing, and the chemistry of these three virtuoso musicians…is a joy to behold”

Guitarist Magazine

“Smith’s fretwork conjures up Reinhardt’s energetic stint with Duke Ellington, while [James] exudes pure countrified fiddle goodness.”

David Lynch
Austin Chronicle

“Would that any night of hot jazz and western swing could be as satisfyingly entertaining as this minimally outfitted (there are but three of them) party band par excellence.”

Bernard Zuel
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

“While its repertoire and style draw from classic western swing and hot violin/guitar jazz of the Parisian 1930s and ’40s, it’s one of the most original groups on the Americana circuit, deserving of attention both live and on record.”

Craig Havighurst
Nashville Tennessean

“Their sly mix of hot licks and cool vocals remains equally driven by the twang of Texas roadhouses as the gypsy string jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli.”

Eli Messenger
Country Standard Time

“…Infusing classic pop and jazz tunes with plenty of string-band verve.”

Mike Joyce
Washington Post

“This trio’s stylistic genesis–as well as title–stems from the realization that the great heritage of strings (guitars and violins) originates mutually with the Manouche gypsies of France and the no-less virtuosic hillbilly pickers and fiddlers of Oklahoma and Texas….Together for over 15 years and a dozen albums, the threesome of high-heeled violinist Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin showed from the beginning that jazz and country music could exist together on the same page, a highly commendable achievement if ever there was one.”

Will Friedwald
Wall Street Journal

“The hot jazz is what Hot Club do best, and this is a …band I once said I could listen to forever. That still stands.”

Duncan Warwick
Country Music People

“One of the finest performances by a visiting American country act I’ve witnessed for a very long time… they pretty much lifted the roof [off of the Black Box in Belfast] a couple of months back…a pretty much perfect country trio at the very top of their game.”

Ralph McLean
The Belfast Telegraph

“Perhaps the first thing one notices when listening to the Hot Club of Cowtown is its lack of irony, self-consciousness and forced hipness in embracing a style of music that so easily lends itself to such things…Stylistically, the band steps out from the shadow of its influences to become more than a faithful retro band that likes to raise its tempo every now and then. It’s writing more of its own songs and varying its delivery… conscious always that above all else, the music is for dancing and an old-fashioned good time.”

Neil Strauss
The New York Times

“If rosin were flammable, violinist Elana [James] would be charged with arson.”

“Cynics could say that they play hick-jumping with jazz sophistication, or jazz sweetness with hoedown grit. Either way, they scoop off the best parts of both styles, and are a supremely entertaining combo.”

Martin Longley
Coventry Telegraph (UK)

“This Austin-based western swing/jazz trio–violin, guitar and upright bass –will bring even the tamest audience to its feet. Plus, instrument aficionados will drool over the 1925 Gibson acoustic, 1937 Gibson amp and all the other classic gear that helps to keep Cowtown hot and hoppin’.”

Chicago Tribune

“…Spirit, originality and skill that would surely have impressed Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s.”

Robin Denselow
The Guardian (London)

“Austin trio Hot Club Of Cowtown sounds like it’s spent the last 40 years in tiny rural clubs. The group’s old-fashioned mixture of Western swing and hot jazz leaves all the irony at home, and what’s left is a refreshingly sweet-natured, accomplished, old-school treat, mixing the perky rhythms of swing masters like Bob Wills with the European gypsy music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.”

The Onion

American Songwriter

February 8, 2011 by Rick Moore

Hot Club of Cowtown: What Makes Bob Holler
By Rick Moore February 8th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hot Club of Cowtown
What Makes Bob Holler
Proper American Recordings
Rating: Four Stars/Four

Austin is known for a lot of great acts that have achieved international acclaim, but even more that most people don

New York Times

January 8th, 2011 by Jon Caramanica

Thursday night, in the basement of Hill Country Barbecue Market, where pork ribs and slices of brisket are eaten off slick butcher paper and the napkins are rolls of paper towels, the smell of Texas was almost as pungent as the sound.

The New York Times

September 15, 2002 by Neil Strauss

Perhaps the first thing one notices when listening to the Hot Club of Cowtown is its lack of irony, self-consciousness and forced hipness in embracing a style of music that so easily lends itself to such things. On the trio’s fourth album, ”Ghost Train” (Hightone), the band not only cavorts with string-band jazz and western swing, but it also performs the Aerosmith song ”Chip Away the Stone” in this style — with tongue firmly out of cheek…

Stirling Observer (Scotland, UK)–Live Review

November 25, 2011

Acoustic Guitar

February, 2003 by David McCarty

On their fourth CD, Austin’s Hot Club of Cowtown blends western swing, Tin Pan Alley songs, and Gypsy jazz into a new acoustic fusion filled with passion and great playing…

Vintage Guitar

May, 2011

Hot Club Of Cowtown
What Makes Bob Holler
Proper Records

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
and Django Reinhardt and Stephane

San Diego Reader

April 20, 2011

Hot Club of Cowtown Blisters Fretboards
By Dave Good | Published Wednesday, April 20, 2011

fRoots Magazine (UK)

April, 2011

Los Angeles Times

January 31, 2011 by Randy Lewis

Album review: Hot Club of Cowtown’s ‘What Makes Bob Holler’
January 31, 2011 |

Albany Times Union

April 1, 2011

Hot Club of Cowtown fires up The Linda with swing
By Greg Haymes, Special to the Times Union
Published 12:01 a.m., Friday, April 1, 2011

ALBANY — Country music that swings? Jazz with a twang? When the high-flying Austin trio Hot Club of Cowtown ambled into the spotlight Wednesday night at WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, the nearly sold-out crowd was captivated from the opening notes of the zippy “She’s Killing Me.”

As the band name indicates, the trio walks the line between the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt’s Quintette du Hot Club de France and the western swing of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. On Wednesday, they leaned more heavily toward the Bob Wills side — no surprise, considering their new album, “What Makes Bob Holler,” is a tribute to Wills and his magical music.

In the realm of western swing, the fiddle is king. And on stage, fiddler Elana James was queen. Whether she was singing the Bob Wills gem “What’s the Matter With the Mill,” sawing through her bow hairs on the bluegrass warhorse “Orange Blossom Special” or crooning an old Rodgers and Hart nugget like “You Took Advantage of Me,” James was the focal point of the band, both musically and visually.

That’s not to take anything away from Whit Smith, who spun marvelously inventive leads on his big old, f-hole, hollowbody guitar and sang lead on most of the band’s selections. His turn on “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” was masterful, as the band wove Cab Calloway-like jump ‘n’ jive with gospelesque call and response. He was just as commanding with his own woozy, late-night-creeping ballad “When I Lost You.”

And, to be honest, the real secret weapon of the band is bassist Jake Erwin, who pummeled away at his big stand-up acoustic like a man possessed. Like any good slap-bassist — and he’s one of the best — he plays the role of both bassist and drummer with his percussive slapping and snapping of the strings. And while his lone lead vocal turn at the microphone on “Sweet Jenny Lee” certainly wasn’t about to win him any awards, he at least held his own.

Although they never did get around to playing any Django tunes, they captured the darkly romantic edge of Gypsy jazz with a pair of flashy instrumentals: “Tchavolo Swing” and “Dark Eyes.” They ripped up some old-time fiddle tunes, too, including “Sally Goodin” and the hot-wired hoedown of “The Acorn Hill Breakdown.” And while most of the show centered around a jaunty, big bounce dance tempo, they could play sweet and slow, too, as they proved with a heavenly rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael classic, “Stardust.”

Los Angles Daily News

February 6, 2011

What Makes Bob Holler 3 1/2 STARS
Hot Club of Cowtown

Probably around the 10,000th tribute album to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, this young, tight trio’s version nicely balances good, less-covered songs (“She’s Killing Me,” “The Devil Ain’t Lazy”) with the usual suspects (“Stay a Little Longer,” a lovely all-instrumental “Faded Love” and the inevitable – especially for this band – “Big Ball in Cowtown”). Hot Club has sounded a little precious on previous recordings, but this full-out blast of classic Western swing seems to have loosened it up just enough to make ’em play like they’re at a real party. And Elana James’ voice never rang clearer, more precise and casually authoritative.

Mountain Stage (NPR)

March 29, 2011

Hot Club Of Cowtown On Mountain Stage

Listen to the show here.

Hot Club of Cowtown formed in 1996 after singer/guitarist Whit Smith responded to an advertisement placed by singer and fiddler Elana James. The pair moved to Austin in 1998, and began playing with a series of bass players before solidifying the lineup with bassist Jake Erwin in 2000.

The Western swing band kicks off its fourth Mountain Stage appearance with the classic “Stay All Night” from its new album, What Makes Bob Holler. Inspired by the sound and style of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hot Club of Cowtown’s live repertoire has expanded to include a substantial amount of original material (Whit Smith’s “Sleep”) and cover songs from artists like Tom Waits, whose tune “The Long Way Home” is included here.

Songlines (UK)

January 11, 2011

What Makes Bob Holler
The Hot Club of Cowtown

by j. poet

It’s hard to imagine why it’s taken the Hot Club of Cowtown so long to record a tribute album to Bob Wills. Their Django-meets-Wills style makes the idea a natural, and when they’ve covered Wills in the past — either tunes he wrote or tunes associated with the Texas Playboys — they’ve always brought a modern sensibility to the tunes that makes them sound brand new. As a trio, they have to be resourceful to get the kind of full sound Wills got with his ensemble, but they’re up to the task. When this album was released in the U.K. in November of 2010, it jumped into the Top Ten and stayed there for weeks. “Big Balls in Cowtown” is a good example of the trio’s method. Elana James lays out three impressive fiddle solos and Whit Smith’s nimble guitar captures the essence of Eldon Shamblin’s Django-esque lines, but finds his own way of making the strings sing. The band rewrites the lyrics using verses from other cowboy tunes, and a few of their own which are in keeping with their suggestive renaming of the song. Smith and James duet on “Time Changes Everything” then Smithdrops a solo that brings to mind the electric mandolin work of Tiny Moore. Smith’s guitar solo takes “Oklahoma Hills” to Paris, then drops a quote from “Dixie” into his run. James is just as inventive and slips a bit of “The Hawaiian War Chant” into her solo. Bass man Jake Erwin shines on “Stay a Little Longer,” his double-time slap bass solo closes the set on a high note.

Uncut (UK)

April, 2011

The Sunday Times (UK)

July 12, 2009

Hot Club of Cowtown and their western swing
Whit Smith, Jake Erwin, Elana James and Damien Llanes inspired by Sinatra, St

No Depression

February, 4, 2011

Hot Club of Cowtown ‘What makes Bob Holler’
Posted by Alan Harrison on February 3, 2011 at 7:30am

Hot Club of Cowtown
What Makes Bob Holler
Proper Records PRPCD071

Flawless Western Swing and Jazz fusion as the Hot Club return to their roots.

A new Hot Club of Cowtown release is a pretty big deal in these circles and as my detractors probably believe

The Philadelphia Inquirer

February 13, 2011 by Nick Cristiano

Posted on Sun, Feb. 13, 2011
New Recordings


Hot Club of Cowtown
What Makes Bob Holler
(Proper American ***)
The “Bob” in the title is, of course, Bob Wills, the American music titan whose Western swing, made with his Texas Playboys, is one of the prime inspirations for Hot Club of Cowtown. And what the trio of fiddler Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith, and bassist Jake Erwin do with Wills’ music would no doubt make Bob let out his trademark “Ah-haaa!” (Especially if Hot Club’s efforts send listeners to seek out the originals, as they should.)

The trio gets to the essence of Wills’ appeal with a set that approximates the live-in-the-studio immediacy of Wills and the Playboys’ radio transcriptions, while providing a showcase for the members’ own instrumental virtuosity, whether it’s James and Smith dueling on “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” or Erwin taking the spotlight on the instrumental “Osage Stomp.”

With the more familiar material, Hot Club seems to make an extra effort to provide a fresh angle. Smith and James, who generally alternate lead vocals, tackle “Time Changes Everything” as a duet, while “Faded Love” is done as an instrumental, James’ mournful fiddle carrying the melody.

– Nick Cristiano

The Guardian (UK)

October 24, 2010 by Neil Spencer

The Hot Club have always had one foot in the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt, the other in the western swing of 40s Texas. Here, the New York trio offer a sweet tribute to the latter, specifically to swing king Bob Wills…

The Onion

September 28, 2010

Austin trio Hot Club Of Cowtown sounds like it

Tulsa Today

April 25, 2010 by Angie Pyle

Friday night at the PAC, was so much more then what I was expecting.

The Herald (Scotland)

May 21, 2009 by Rob Adams

As well as coming up with one of the most appropriate entries in the band names lexicon, Hot Club of Cowtown appear to have shrunk the week into two days. The mood created by this trio based in Austin, Texas, now augmented by the judicious drumming of Damien Llanes, is generally associated with the traditional hair-letting-down nights of Friday and Saturday…

The Sydney Morning Herald

May 21, 2009 by Rob Adams

Loosen your shirt collars, gentlemen. Ease off the coats, ladies. And, waiter, top up those sarsparillas. It’s time to enjoy yourselves…

Houston Press

August 22, 2009 by William Michael Smith


Word Magazine (UK)

May, 2009 by Lucky Tiler

It’s not like me to go all evangelical, but last night I saw a gig that I have to rank up beside Bob Marley & The Wailers at Glasgow Apollo: Hot Club of Cowtown at Glasgow ABC. It was one of those where you nearly don’t go – can’t be bothered putting your boots on – but you think, Oh it might be fun, and make the effort…

Aquarian Weekly

August 11, 2009 by Josh Frank

Hot Club of Cowtown is a band that seems to imagine American pop music as if time was stopped in the mid-1950s. It

Washington Times

August 18, 2009 by David Eldridge

After a few years of solo and side projects, including a formative stint in Bob Dylan’s band, fiddle player extraordinaire Elana James decided to get the old band back together.

That band is the Hot Club of Cowtown, and the album that came out of the Texas-based trio’s reunion, “Wishful Thinking,” is one of the year’s most unexpected listening pleasures.

Set for its U.S. release Tuesday, the new collection is a charming, irresistible mix of the Western swing revivalism that defined Hot Club’s earlier albums and more contemporary Americana plus sultry torch songs.

The album kicks off with a valentine for longtime fans: guitarist Whit Smith’s rollicking cover of Bob Wills’ “Can’t Go on This Way.”

It’s a track that would be right at home alongside the cowboy-jazz covers that dominated Hot Club’s releases from the late ’90s.

But the next song, the ominous country-pop of Miss James’ “Reunion,” is indicative of the group’s growth.

“Reunion” is one of several deliciously dark originals offered up by the band’s two principals, Miss James and Mr. Smith. Even their choice of covers – Mr. Smith essays the classic “Georgia,” and Miss James closes the album with a breathtaking version of the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” – seems to capture a melancholy maturity missing from their sets a decade ago.

Mr. Smith’s Appalachian-flavored “Carry Me Close,” in particular, is a poignant and moving tale of loss. Even the witty, uptempo “If You Leave Me” is a charming chronicle of a discarded lover’s groveling.

Groveling you can jitterbug to, but groveling nonetheless.

Yet as elegant and clever as Mr. Smith’s singing and guitar playing may be, it’s Miss James’ sultry voice and her incomparable fiddling that remain the Hot Club’s drawing card.

Miss James, Mr. Smith and bassist Jake Erwin (joined to good effect on this album by drummer Damien Llanes) show off their chops, trading solos and riffs on almost every song.

From the Django Reinhardt-infused instrumental romp “Heart of Romain” to the jazzy traditional “The Magic Violin,” Mr. Smith and Miss James especially seem to bring out the showmanship in each other. There’s an infectious moment at the close of “Romain” when Miss James seems to finger-pick her fiddle, harmonizing with Mr. Smith’s guitar playing note for note.

She shines on the sarcastic “What You Meant to Me” (alt-country queens such as Zooey Deschanel would die for this song) and on her gypsy odes to obscure European cafe culture, “Cabiria” (a … ummm … tribute to a 1914 silent Italian film classic) and the aforementioned “Romain.”

But it’s tracks like “One Step Closer,” Miss James’ venture into the bossa-nova territory of Diana Krall, that likely will attract new fans.

“Wishful Thinking” was released to rave reviews in Europe a couple of months back, and Washington fans won’t have to wait long to see the Hot Club try out the new material live – the band is booked Sept. 19 at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington.


October, 2009 by John Patrick Gatta

After more than a decade of recording and performing, it

The Groove

March 9th, 2010 by Steve Ramm

At the Americana conference this year I discovered a trio of young musicians who will appeal to fans of

Maximum Ink

September, 2009 by John Noyd

A phoenix rising from nests of effervescent finesse,

Bluegrass Special

March 9th, 2010 by David McGee

When you say “the spirit of Bob Wills lives on” today, the natural inclination of fans of the King of Western Swing is to think, justifiably so, of Grammy-gobbling Asleep At the Wheel and its venerable frontman, Ray Benson. A dutiful steward of the Wills legacy, Benson and his various Wheel aggregates have more than earned the many plaudits and awards bestowed on them through the years. But also out there, less honored and working on a smaller scale–as in a trio instead of a big band format–but being no less diligent about flying the flag for western swing with solid playing, strong original material supplementing beloved standards, along with imaginative arranging and affecting singing, is the Hot Club of Cowtown. Back on record after a five-year hiatus, Cowtowners Elana James and Whit Smith discuss their new album and renewed enthusiasm for carrying on together…

Austin Chronicle

August 28, 2009 by Jim Caligiuri

They broke up in 2005, but Wishful Thinking proves the Hot Club of Cowtown belongs together. Fiddler Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith, and stand-up bassist Jake Erwin haven’t made a studio album together since 2002’s Ghost Train, yet here the local trio reaches another level of musicality…

New York Times

February 10, 2003 by Jon Pareles

The debonair music that the violinist St

Tulsa World

August 16, 2009 by Karen Shade

The band’s sound of ’30s Paris jazz clubs and boot-tappin’ cowboy melodies came to Tulsa in 2004. The three-piece act opened for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson at Drillers Stadium and headlined their own show at Cain’s a few months later…


August 19, 2009

If their name conjures up a certain old time feel, Hot Club Of Cowtown come about it from a perspective that allows entitlement and authenticity.

Ear to Ear Project

November 1, 2009 by Claire Blaustein

I am a recent convert to country. I scoffed, I scorned, I teased. Then I listened. And I learned. And now I

Daily Record

February 26, 2010 by Joel Francis

When Elana James was growing up in Kansas City, you could usually find her in Westport on the weekends. After checking out the bookstore, window shopping for clothes or catching a movie she

Jazziz Magazine

August, 2009


Country Standard Time

September, 2009 by Dawn Pomento

Hot Club of Cowtown is a complex band filled with surprises. Evidence: The two singers trade off lead vocals, but the band also plays a lot of instrumentals. They’ve been successful as a traditional guitar, violin and stand-up bass combo, but recently added a drummer to mix things up on their latest CD, “Wishful Thinking.”…

Australia Music Guide

July, 2009

This year’s Bluesfest smash, the Hot club – as the name suggests – is an amalgam of western swing, country, folk and hot gypsy jazz. There are only three of them, but their dynamics would keep a musicologist busy. Each member sings as well as plays an instrument. Elana James (fiddle) has toured alongside bob Dylan, and her songwriting, particularly on Reunion, is tasteful and stylish, while guitarist Whit Smith trades off hot licks against his own voice, and bassist Erwin James holds down the arrangements with real style. A hot club indeed, and one I’d join immediately.

Colorado Springs Independent

October 27, 2010 by Claire Swinford

For many of us, the name “Hot Club of Cowtown” doesn’t necessarily conjure up visions of a sophisticated, original world music band.

You may think of North Carolina hoedowns.

You may think of Colorado Springs’ own Flying W Wranglers.

You may, like me, end up with the “Woody’s Roundup” theme from Toy Story 2 stuck in your head as you prepare to interview the band.

Boy, don’t you feel dumb?

Within two minutes of talking with Elana James, fiddler and vocalist for Hot Club of Cowtown, it was plain that I needed to stop thinking “regional music” and start thinking “global phenomenon.” Hot Club’s sound is nothing if not international…

The Guardian (London)

May 1, 2009 by Robin Denselow

It takes considerable bravery to name your band after one of the greatest jazz ensembles of the last century. Hot Club get away with it because they have spirit, originality and skill that would surely have impressed St