Wild Kingdom/Hot Club of Cowtown

4/5 stars

Holy cow! That’s some fine Texan songwriting

Anyone who isn’t able to catch the Texan trio on their UK tour this November can console themselves with this, their 11th studio album. It’s already been 21 years since their debut, Swingin’ Stampede, but this album proves that time has not staled their variety. They can still swing with bravado on such originals as ‘My Candy’ and ‘Tall Tall Ship, or on the album’s three standards, typified by the delightful take on ‘Three Little Words’. And they’re equally convincing on slower material like the charming ‘Rodeo Blues’ and the ruminant ‘Billy the Kid, (with guest drummer Damien Llanes’s brushwork artfully suggesting the crackle of an old phonograph).

This first album of original material in ten years underlines how the songwriting talents of the band’s two lead vocalists, fiddler Elana James and guitarist Whit Smith, have matured like the best bourbon. While the jazzy ‘Ways of Escape’ exemplifies the latter’s existential themes (and retro playing), the 25 ‘near misses’ of the witty and delightful ‘Near Mrs’ is representative of James’s sharp focus on failure. Occasionally augmented by percussion and piano, the trio alone can cook up a hearty sound, bulked out as ever by Jake Erwin’s lusty bass. Terrific musicianship, songs, album.

Mark Sampson