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Elana James

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Album Review

Elana James may be the fiddler and singer's first solo album, but James is no novice. Formerly one-third of the Western swing revival trio the Hot Club of Cowtown and later a prominent sidewoman in Bob Dylan's touring band, James has instrumental chops galore. If anything, the big surprise on Elana James is that James largely downplays her well-known violin prowess in favor of showcasing her swell vocals. Possessing a strong, clear voice that moves easily from flirty to sultry and back, James keeps her vocals at the forefront of the songs, with the delicate "Eva's Waltz" and the jaunty "Silver Bells" (not the Christmas standard) the only instrumentals out of the baker's dozen tunes. Sticking mostly to the jazzier end of Western swing, James fronts a small combo with mandolin (courtesy of the great Johnny Gimble, who also plays, quite literally, second fiddle throughout), stand-up bass, old-fashioned rhythm guitar, minimal percussion and occasional swinging clarinet parts. Evenly split between James originals and standards including a terrific pair of Duke Ellington tunes, Dylan's "One More Night" and the traditional folk tune "Goodbye Liza Jane," Elana James is a hugely enjoyable piece of modern Western swing that's respectful of the jazz and country traditions while being faithful to neither.

Customer Reviews

Great blend of different styles

I'd never heard her stuff from Hot Club From Cowtown, but I was familiar with her from her work with Bob Dylan. I saw her this summer and she blew me away so I ordered this cd. It is just amazing - such a great combination of jazz, western swing, bluegrass, and ballads. The style sounds old-fashioned but at the same time it sounds uniquely modern. Elana's lyrics are great especially on Twenty Four Hours A Day and All The World And I. The melodies are great. The playing is great all around. This is a great contribution to American music and music everywhere.

Better than you can even imagine.

I just got back from seeing Elana James live at Gruene Hall. I had heard a little of her work with Hot Club of Cowtown, but was unprepared for the musicianship of this group. Whit Smith plays a very sweet jazzy swing guitar and Beau Sample can do things with an upright bass that a player that young shouldn't. I have always enjoyed country swing fiddle, and Elana can really play country swing. But that would be selling her short. She is a consummate jazz fiddle player with a style and touch that reminds you of Stephane Grappelli. Her voice is the last instrument and it fits in so well with this group. Buy this album! You will love it.

Mediocre at best

Elana James in concert sparkles. Her energy and beautiful smile are captivating and she conveys her own fun to the audience. On disc however, she disappoints. Her voice is weak and annoyingly breathy (All ther World and I is almost unlistenable), with little range - she obviously needs some coaching. While her fiddle playing is solid she does nothing special that any good bluegrass fiddler can't match or top. And the arrangements of these songs are repetitive and unimaginative. Disappointing. For a better voice, better fiddling and arrangements, and every bit the energy and then some try Rhonda Vincent CDs.

Elana James, Elana James
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Customer Ratings