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