Hot Club of Cowtown, Slayton, Minnesota 13.10.09
Whit Smith on guitar and vocals, Elana James on fiddle and vocals, Jake Erwin on bass
Wishful Thinking, Hot Club of Cowtown‘s new release, is in the Top 10 on the Americana Radio Chart, but they are Number 1 on my list of best concerts of 2009. Because Cowtown came to my town for two hours of hootin’ and hollerin’ hot jazz and western swing.
I’ve seen some great shows in high school auditoriums—Alison Krauss, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Karen Mal, Bill Isles. There’s something more accessible, more real, about a performance on the same stage my kids could share any day.
The Austin-based trio came out just before the show was due to start to get plugged in and whispered and adjusted while Mrs. Stokesbury, the Concert Series Committee Chair, gave her introductions. Nobody would have been the wiser is Ms. James hadn’t come to the mic then and told us the pickup on her fiddle had just broken. Or if Mr. Smith hadn’t mentioned that it had worked just fine for years. Nope, nobody would have been the wiser because once Elana put her fiddle up to the voice mic and sawed that bow on the opening “Ida Red” it was just like Bob Wills was back among the living.
The threesome lent a comfortable, vintage ease to the performance that comes from a dozen years on and off the road together. Elana, decked out in a floral print strapless dress on a cold snowy Minnesota weeknight, launched into “Deed I Do” with a sultry smile that never left her face the entire evening. She made that fiddle cry Jake made the stand-up bass bound like a broken heart, and the pearl inlays on Whit’s hollow body guitar caught the spotlight, all reflecting sound and emotion right back at the audience. Another song, an instrumental with a gypsy air, and the classic “Georgia” lit the torch that lightened up the barn dance atmosphere.
The program featured a mix of upbeat originals and classic western swing, with a few torch songs and gypsy fiddle tunes that showcase Elana’s inner chanteuse. It was all I could do not to get up and start doing a two-step right then and there.
- Forget-Me-Nots, off 2002 album Ghost Train
- Navajo Trail, a western tune which I don’t think has been released, but has been on their live show at least going back ten years.
- Cherokee Shuffle polka
- I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby
- Right or Wrong
- a French gypsy fiddle tune
- Exactly Like You
- Sleep (Whit)
- Buffalo Gals (won’t you come out tonight)
- Heart of Romain, an instrumental off the new album
- Cheek to Cheek
- Reunion, which reminds me alot of say, a Cadillac Sky song, sort of newgrass structure and lyrics, which I liked even better live
- Eva’s Waltz, an instrumental for their stage manager and favorite puppy
- My Window Faces the South
- Eliza Jane
- You Took Advantage of Me
- Polkadots and Moonbeams
- The Magic Violin, performed at, I estimate, 100 miles per hour
- Get Along Home Cindy
- And by request, Orange Blossom Special
HCOC is touring small towns across the Midwest this month. They were heading to Lisbon, North Dakota, south of Fargo, then Thief River Falls, Park Rapids and Virginia, in northern Minnesota, finishing up the swing with shows in Wisconsin and Iowa. If you are anywhere near, it would be more than Wishful Thinking to expect a great show from Hot Club of Cowtown in your hometown.