Hot Club of Cowtown
Since its beginnings in the late 1990s, the star power of Hot Club of Cowtown has continued to rise as its reputation for jaw-dropping virtuosity and unforgettable live shows have become band's global brand. Lauded for its "down-home melodies and exuberant improvisation" (The Times, London), the Hot Club has always woven a combination of seemingly disparate styles together to its own magical effect, setting up camp "at that progressive Western Swing crossroads where country meets jazz and chases the blues away" (The Independent), remaining "conscious always that above all else, the music is for dancing and an old-fashioned good time" (New York Times). The band's musical alchemy has been described as "another breathless journey in the Texas tardis" (The Times, London), while American Songwriterobserved that "the excellent three players of this band could be doing anything but have chosen to honor the greats of jazz and swing with their sound." The Belfast Telegraph calls the Hot Club of Cowtown "a pretty much perfect country trio at the very top of their game," and the New York Times, in a live review the trio as armed with "an arsenal full of technique and joy."
The Hot Club of Cowtown has toured extensively worldwide for over twenty years, both on its own and with with artists including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Gatemouth Brown, the Avett Brothers, Dan Hicks, Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, the Squirrell Nut Zippers, the Mavericks, the Dustbowl Revival, and others. Festivals/career highlights include the Women in Jazz series (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), the Glastonbury Festival (UK), the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan), Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival (AU), the National Folk Festival (US and AU), the Stagecoach Festival, the Winnipeg Folk Festival (CA), Waiting for Waits Festival (SP), the grand opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, The Barns at Wolf Trap, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, traveling as US State Department Musical Ambassadors to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Algeria, the Republic of Georgia, and the Sultanate of Oman, and being inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.
EARLY YEARS & DISCOGRAPHY
In 1994 in New York City, Elana James placed an ad in the music section of the Village Voice looking to join a band, and Whit Smith answered it. Since then the music these two have made has always been a secret brew of energy, joie de vivre, and a respect for tradition that is often imitated but never equaled. By 1997, after founding a much larger Western swing orchestra in NYC, Elana and Whit pared back down to their essential elements and the duo that began as "Whit & Elana" grew - with the addition of a bass player and a lot of optimism and naïvetÃ© - into Hot Club of Cowtown. The trio moved to Austin, Texas, and released its first album, Swingin' Stampede, in 1998 after signing with American roots label HighTone Records. Tall Tales (1999) and Dev'lish Mary (2000) soon followed, but it wasn't until 2001 that the band's lineup solidified with the arrival of bassist Jake Erwin, who cemented Hot Club's larger-than-life, earth-shaking rhythmic foundation.
Ghost Train (2002) first showcased the band's shift toward original songwriting and Continental Stomp (2003) is a live album recorded in the Hot Club of Cowtown's natural habitat and joyful home base, the Continental Club in Austin, Texas. In 2008 American label Shout Factory released a 20-track Best of the Hot Club of Cowtown retrospective, followed by Wishful Thinking (2009). In 2011 the band released the first of a three-part series of albums dedicated exclusively to its roots: What Makes Bob Holler arrived in 2011 with Western Swing standards made famous by Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys; Rendezvous in Rhythm was released in 2013, a collection of American Songbook standards and Gypsy-influenced hot jazz in the style of Hot Club de Paris: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli; and in 2016 Midnight on the Trail, re-imagined cowboy ballads, traditional Western Swing, and songs by Gene Autry, Cindy Walker, Johnny Mercer, Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan, and others, was released in 2016. To celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017 the Hot Club of Cowtown re-released Western Clambake which was previously available only as a cassette that the band created in 1997 to sell while busking in San Diego's farmers markets and at Balboa Park. Crossing the Great Divide (2019) is the band's latest recording, a seven-song EP of songs by Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan and The Band to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Band's first two albums, Music from Big Pink and The Band. An album of new material is in the works for fall 2019 release.
AWARDS & HONORS:
- Ameripolitan Music Awards, winner, Western Swing Group of the Year (2015)
- Ameripolitan Music Awards, winner, (Elana James) Western Swing Female of the Year (2015)
- Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame (Inducted in 2004)
- Western Music Association's Crescendo Award (2002)
- True West Magazine's Best of the West Awards, Best Music Group Best Music Group (2012)
- Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll (2012)
- Ameripolitan Music Awards, nominated, Western Swing Group of the Year (2014)
- Ameripolitan Music Awards, (Elana James) nominated, Western Swing Female of the Year (2014)
- Roots Music Reports names "What Makes Bob Holler" a worldwide Top 20 Roots Country Album (2011)
- "This trio's stylistic genesis-as well as title-stems from the realization that the great heritage of strings
guitars and violins) originates mutually with the Manouche gypsies of France and the no-less virtuosic hillbilly
pickers and fiddlers of Oklahoma and Texas....Together for over 15 years and a dozen albums, the threesome of high-heeled
violinist Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin showed from the beginning that jazz and country music
could exist together on the same page, a highly commendable achievement if ever there was one."
~Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal
- "The timing, swing, and the chemistry of these three virtuoso musicians...is a joy to behold"
- "[Elana's voice] just flows with 1930s wonderment, it has an underlying sexiness that draws the listeners in until each
and every one is caught in her musical spell..."
~David Knowles, Maverick Magazine
- "The hot jazz is what Hot Club do best, and this is a ...band I once said I could listen to forever. That still stands."
~Duncan Warwick, Country Music People
- "Unfussy and unpretentious, their blend of down-home melodies and exuberant improvisation harks back to a lost era of
so-called western swing. When they plunge into Orange Blossom Special your thoughts turn not so much to runaway trains as
to a B-52 tearing up a runway."
~Clive Davis, The Times (London)
- "One of the finest performances by a visiting American country act I've witnessed for a very long time... they pretty much
lifted the roof [off of the Black Box in Belfast] a couple of months back...a pretty much perfect country trio at the very top
of their game."
~Ralph McLean, The Belfast Telegraph
- "Perhaps the first thing one notices when listening to the Hot Club of Cowtown is its lack of irony, self-consciousness and
forced hipness in embracing a style of music that so easily lends itself to such things...Stylistically, the band steps out from
the shadow of its influences to become more than a faithful retro band that likes to raise its tempo every now and then. It's
writing more of its own songs and varying its delivery... conscious always that above all else, the music is for dancing and an
old-fashioned good time."
~Neil Strauss, New York Times
- "...Spirit, originality and skill that would surely have impressed Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s."
~Robin Denselow, the Guardian (London)
- "Cynics could say that they play hick-jumping with jazz sophistication, or jazz sweetness with hoedown grit. Either way, they
scoop off the best parts of both styles, and are a supremely entertaining combo."
~Martin Longley, Coventry Telegraph (UK)
- "This Austin-based western swing/jazz trio-violin, guitar and upright bass -will bring even the tamest audience to its feet.
Plus, instrument aficionados will drool over the 1925 Gibson acoustic, 1937 Gibson amp and all the other classic gear that helps
to keep Cowtown hot and hoppin'."
- "Would that any night of hot jazz and western swing could be as satisfyingly entertaining as this minimally outfitted (there
are but three of them) party band par excellence.
~Bernard Zuel, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
- "Austin trio Hot Club Of Cowtown sounds like it's spent the last 40 years in tiny rural clubs. The group's old-fashioned
mixture of Western swing and hot jazz leaves all the irony at home, and what's left is a refreshingly sweet-natured, accomplished,
old-school treat, mixing the perky rhythms of swing masters like Bob Wills with the European gypsy music of Django Reinhardt and
- "The young band distinguishes itself by its technical musicianship and vast acreage of diverse styles alone, but it seals the
deal on stage, subtly and methodically casting aside the audience's daily worries and levitating the room into a dreamy salon of
carefree abandon. Even the heartbreak songs are served sunny-side up."
~Derek Raymaker, Toronto Globe & Mail
- "I doubt that many rock bands expend more energy in their playing, but what I admire most here is the unified point of view:
a nostalgic love of western swing, big-band crooning, ragtime, even jazz improvisation."
~Marc Mickelson, Soundstage.com
- "Smith's fretwork conjures up Reinhardt's energetic stint with Duke Ellington, while [James] exudes pure countrified fiddle
~David Lynch, Austin Chronicle
- "Working in such tradition, the Hot Club of Cowtown can burn, playing fast and furious driving rhythms at break-neck pace,
and the wild abandon of Whit's fleet-fingered solos improvised over dangerous changes can leave a listener slack-jawed and winded."
~Baker Rorick, Guitar Magazine
- "Their sly mix of hot licks and cool vocals remains equally driven by the twang of Texas roadhouses as the gypsy string jazz of
Reinhardt and Grappelli."
~Eli Messenger, Country Standard Time
- "...Infusing classic pop and jazz tunes with plenty of string-band verve."
~Mike Joyce, Washington Post
- "If rosin were flammable, violinist Elana [James] would be charged with arson."
- "While its repertoire and style draw from classic western swing and hot violin/guitar jazz of the Parisian 1930s and '40s, it's
one of the most original groups on the Americana circuit, deserving of attention both live and on record."
~Craig Havighurst, Nashville Tennessean