Hot Club of Cowtown
What Makes Bob Holler
Before there were Beatles, before there was Elvis, before we Rocked Around the Clock, America loved and listened to Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Calling himself the King of Western Swing, he had a bouncy beat and a taste of boogie woogie and a few fiddlers who could play the devil all the way back to Georgia. His sound is often regarded as the precursor to the 1950s surge of rock and roll, and when you spin Hot Club of Cowtown you’re right back there with the lo-fi sound of clear channel A.M.
These songs originated on some acetate transcriptions from KVOO in Oklahoma City, and they’ve been brushed up and re-recorded. We hear a generous 14 tunes, and it’s more than just a homage; it’s an exciting sound that could headline on Prairie Home Companion. Opening with “Big Balls in Cowtown,” lead singer Elana James sings her way though an old double-entendre with the sweet innocence that gets murderous things past the censors. Its speed fiddle (Whit Smith) and slap bass (Jake Erwin) make you put on your dancing best and jump off that hay bale and make a pass at the school marm. “Oklahoma Hills” is a classic, if slightly corny ballad of Elana riding her pony on a reservation in the Indian nation, and revives the innocent fun we used to associate with the Gene Autry / Roy Rogers version of the frontier. Obscurities and specialty abound: “Smith’s Reel” and the “The Osage Stomp” bring high energy instrumental to the mix, and songs like “Faded Love” recall jook joint laments about cheap beer, cheating women, and pickup trucks that filled the Nashville charts for the next 20 years.
Part tent revival, part barn dance, and all entertainment, Hot Club of Cowtown might not play the “Cotton Eyed Joe,” but this stuff got your parents or grandparents together, so it’s in your genes. Play this through twice, and you can’t miss getting lucky.
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