“My Candy,” the opening track on Hot Club of Cowtown’s new album, Wild Kingdom, swings merrily along in a spacious scamper with Elana James’ sprightly fiddle weaving around Whit Smith’s bright and fluid guitar riffs, Jake Erwin’s powerful bass lines, and Joe Kerr’s jumping piano. James’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics name check several varieties of candy — “Ain’t no Jolly Rancher compares to what I’ve found / My own Bit-O-Honey, the sweetest thing around” — telling us she no longer needs some sweets now that she’s “found the sweetest candy, and my candy’s sweet on me.” The roomy bridge allows each musician to follow her or his own notes down a musical trail before meeting again at the crossroads to drive the song home. “My Candy” showcases the eclectic musical promise of Hot Club of Cowtown’s first album of original material in 10 years.
“Last Call” opens with a lonesome fiddle before blossoming into a gorgeous waltz with lyrics about drinking that cut two ways: It’s the last call at the bar, but it’s also the last call for the song’s subject, who’s being called home by God: “Tonight we’ll leave this bar room, for life is but a dream / It’s last call, you’re comin’ home with me.” Smith’s “Caveman” swings along happily delivering the tale of the caveman who’s been painting on the cave walls “ever since he can remember.” Smith’s shimmering lead runs provide the foundation for the song to float along.
“Near Mrs.” opens sparsely with James playing call and response with Smith’s guitar on the first verse before jumping off into a sashaying catalog of the times she’s almost ended up as a married woman and the reasons that none of those relationships developed: “Seven, an Italian, didn’t like my clothes / Eight, a writer with a girl that he didn’t disclose / There were guys with blue, brown, green, and hazel eyes / Ten, God bless, won the Nobel Prize.”
Wild Kingdom also features the Hot Club of Cowtown’s take on “Three Little Words,” the theme from the 1930s film, the traditional Scottish tune “Loch Lomond,” and Les and Mary Ford’s “How High the Moon.”
Hot Club of Cowtown shines brilliantly on Wild Kingdom, coming close to perfection on every song, for these musicians weave the notes of every song seamlessly into a brightly colored cloth that reflects every facet of light they find in the spaces in each tune.