(Proper American, 2011):
Western swing has been an essential ingredient in the repertoire of the Hot Club of Cowtown since the trio uncorked their debut album, “Swingin’ Stampede” on HighTone Records, back in 1998. In fact, you could say that the band is pretty much based on the hybrid style of Django Reinhardt-meets-Bob Wills.
But the core duo of fiddler-vocalist Elana James and guitarist-vocalist Whit Smith always seemed to bring a more contemporary spin on their fusion of Gypsy jazz and western swing. Their previous album – 2009’s “Wishful Thinking,” their reunion after a hiatus – was a decidedly eclectic disc with a more eccentric selection of tunes – including Tom Waits’ “The Long Way Home.” But it also led off with Wills’ “Can’t Go on This Way.”
Now with “What Makes Bob Holler,” the band – which also features bassist Jake Erwin – has finally surrendered to the inevitable – a full, 14-song album tribute to the King of Western Swing. Wills-penned classics like “Maiden’s Prayer,” “Faded Love” and “Stay a Little Longer” nestle up alongside a batch of other tunes – “Big Balls in Cowtown,” “It’s All Your Fault” and “Time Changes Everything” – that were staples of Wills and his band, the Texas Playboys.
And with this album, HCCT plays it straight. It’s jazz, after all, so there’s plenty of room for virtuoso, inventive playing and singing, but there’s no attempt to overtly re-invent Wills’ time-honored repertoire. It may have taken the band longer to get around to it than anyone expected, but this is a heart-felt homage, and it rings true.