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Hot Club Of Cowtown
Wishful Thinking

Review By Steven Stone
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  The Hot Club of Cowtownare best known for their explorations in the musical genre known as western swing. But their new release, Wishful Thinking, reveals new facets of their collective musical personality. All three members of the band, Elana James, Whit Smith, and Jake Erwin, push past the boundaries of old time swing into modern pop music.

Elana James' song, "Reunion," is a prime example of the Hot Club of Cowtown's musical expansion. Poignant lyrics explore James' second thoughts about pursuing her dreams of being a professional musician as the melody combines a simple almost childlike line with eerie harmonic undertones. The title of the CD, Wishful Thinking, came from the song's lyrics. Whit Smith's original song, "Carry Me Close," reminds me of some of Martin Simpson's best work. Smith combines a lonesome-sounding tuned-down finger-picked DADGD acoustic guitar part with a minimalist arrangement to create a folky masterpiece. The Hot Club's cover of the Tom Waits- Kathleen Brennan song "Long Way Home" also strikes out in a new musical direction with its loopy short-legged beat and rustic acoustic textures this definitely ain't western swing. Finally, so as not to disappoint swing aficionados, Wishful Thinking includes some great swing numbers, including the Hot Club original "The Magic Violin," Bob Wills' "Can't Go On This Way," and "Columbus Stockade Blues." The instrumental "The Magic Violin" includes red-hot solos by Elana James on fiddle, Whit Smith on electric guitar and even Jake Erwin takes a turn with an acoustic stand-up bass solo.

Both James and Smith deliver their lead vocals with a palpable sense of individuality. Compared with James' 2006 solo release, her vocals here have more presence and power. During the interim she's developed a more commanding range of vocal expression. Whit Smith also displays a wide vocal palette that gives the Hot Club a broader musical range and greater emotional depth.

With Wishful Thinking the Hot Club of Cowtown breaks through the musical limitations of one particular genre and go from being merely a revival band into one that explores the wide open spaces of modern Americana.

 

 

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