The Hot Club of Cowtown
Tall Tales
Hightone (

On their second recording, this Austin trio mines classic western swing, cartoony jazz, and those Django-esque hints of gypsy romanticism suggested by their name. And, while the music has that authentic sound, it avoids camp, especially the temptation to record flatly in order to emulate old 78s; the production is full and deep. Whit Smith's guitar can provide pervasive percussive chording or fast, complex lead lines with unusual fluidity. The wildness of Elana Premerman's violin lends much of the gypsy flavor to the Hot Club's sound, but it can also intone slick, sinuous accompaniment, harmonious western wails, or add percussive drive. Billy Horton's upright bass can also step out front with slapped ferocity, but usually distinguishes itself through unobtrusively flawless support. And all three sing more than competently, usually on separate numbers.

I'm not that accustomed to hearing vocal renditions of "Bonaparte's Retreat," and Premerman's strong, smiling voice is a treat on the Hot Club's version. Her violin solos also provide a Cajun tang to this chestnut. "I Laugh When I Think How I Cried Over You" is a fitting swing tribute to Bob Wills, with lively fiddle, guitar solo, and smooth male vocal driven along with a vigor characteristic of the Hot Club; they must be a great dance band. They follow it with a swinging Wills instrumental, "Joe Bob Rag." The fury of the traditional instrumental "Draggin' the Bow," which kicks off the recording, is by turns energizing and exhausting.

"Tale Tales" contains plenty of lovingly performed covers, but there are also some standout original compositions. You can almost see the flappers while listening to Smith's "Emily," with its swinging jazz featuring a cornet solo. A sly wit and more western swing atmosphere pervade Premerman's "You and I Are Through," and Billy and Bobby Horton's "You Can't Take It With You" humorously applies eschatologic to the division of spoils in a romantic breakup. "Tall Tales" establishes the Hot Club of Cowtown as one of the masters of the swing resurgence. - Jim Foley

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