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Wishful Thinking

Hot Club of Cowtown

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Album Review

The Hot Club of Cowtown felt they'd come to the end of the road in 2005 and went their separate ways. Fiddler Elana James (formerly Elana Fremerman) formed the Continental Two with bass man Jake Erwin and landed an opening slot on a Dylan tour that led to a spot fiddling in Dylan's touring band. Whit Smithstarted his own swing band, Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan, and finally rejoined James and Erwin in as the Continental Two & One. When the State Department asked them to revive the Hot Club of Cowtown to tour parts of the former Soviet Union and Armenia, they did and the trio began working together again. Wishful Thinking, their first album as HCCT in five years, finds the group pulling out all the stops to lay down what may be their best album yet. Smith and James are in fine voice, and the band's minimalist virtuosity is even more impressive than it was before their hiatus. They've also added drummer Damien Llanes to the lineup, which gives the music even more drive than before. The band's also stepped up its songwriting, with seven original tunes that sound as good as any of the standards that used to be their main stock in trade. James' "Reunion" is a poignant account of a high school reunion, where the jealousy of her classmates over her musical success is palpable. Her "Cabiria" tips its hat to the Gypsy jazz side of the band's repertoire; James' sexy vocal and hot fiddle are paired with Smith's brilliant Django-meets-Eldon Shamblin-style picking. Smith contributes "If You Leave Me (You've Got to Take Me with You)," a tune that sounds like a classic that could have come from the '40s, with a sly vocal from Smith followed by concise solos from James, Smith, and Erwin. Smith's "Carry Me Close" is an old-time romantic tune with witty lyrics and his simple strummed chords supporting his heartfelt vocal. James and Smith co-wrote "One Step Closer" a late-night lament with Llanes supplying a vaguely Latin rhythm and James murmuring the mournful lyric. Covers include Bob Wills' "Can't Go on This Way," a showcase for Smith's picking, and James' Texas fiddle, the Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan tune "The Long Way Home" given a country-flavored makeover, and the traditional "Columbus Stockade Blues" in an arrangement that could have been tailored for the Andrews Sisters accented by the sweet harmonies of James and Smith and some fancy fiddle and guitar work. Smith croons "Georgia on My Mind" with a behind-the-beat delivery halfway between Hoagy Carmichael and Willie Nelson, while James shines with her smoky vocal on the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me." ~ j. poet, Rovi

Biography

Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Western swing revivalists Hot Club of Cowtown formed in San Diego, CA in 1996; originally a duo pairing singer/violinist Elana Fremerman and singer/guitarist Whit Smith, a subsequent move to Austin, TX made room for the addition of bassist Billy Horton. Signing to Hightone, the trio issued its debut album, Swingin' Stampede!, in the fall of 1998; the follow-up, Tall Tales, appeared a year later. New bassist Matt Weiner joined Smith and Fremerman for 2000's Dev'lish Mary. Ghost Train came two years...
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Wishful Thinking, Hot Club of Cowtown
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