Hot Club Of Cowtown – Continental Stomp
Hot Club Of Cowtown’s 1998 debut album revealed an intriguing concept of a minimalist perspective on western swing, hamstrung by a stiff, self-conscious and overly earnest approach. Their 2000 release Dev’lish Mary marked a turning point: Bassist Jake Erwin’s confidence grew, Whit Smith’s electric guitar remained retro yet original, and Elana Fremerman’s fiddling matured into a more relaxed style of swing.
On Continental Stomp, recorded at Austin’s Continental Club in May 2003, they mix crowd-pleasers with unconventional choices, opening with two 1920s pop-jazz favorites, “Diga Diga Doo” and “‘Deed I Do”. They skillfully adapt Spade Cooley’s “Crazy ‘Cause I Love You”, originally written for a large band, to a trio format. Regrettably, they buried the one truly rambunctious live moment, the Light Crust Doughboys’ double-entendre “Pussy, Pussy, Pussy”, as a bonus track instead of “Orange Blossom Special”, the facile fiddle tune many fiddling contests banned long ago as a “trick” number.
Vocally, they still have a ways to go. Their bouncy, playful arrangements of the swing chestnuts “Exactly Like You” and “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” demand jazzy phrasing. Yet Fremerman sings so rigidly and annoyingly on the beat that she might as well be reading the lyrics from sheet music. On a clever ballad arrangement of “Pennies From Heaven”, Smith’s interpretation sounds more like a Willie Nelson or Freddie Powers impression.
Hot Club proves their skills at pleasing a crowd resoundingly. One hopes that as they grew instrumentally, they’ll grow vocally as well.