Album review: Hot Club of Cowtown’s ‘What Makes Bob Holler’


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This long-running Austin, Texas, trio salutes Bob Wills, one if its two primary musical influences (the other being the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli) on this sweetly unassuming, live-in-the-studio trip through 14 numbers from the king of western swing’s repertoire.

There’s a vintage sonic quality to the recording, which isn’t precious in the least, but befits the sprightly charm at the heart of Wills’ ebullient music. The empathy among fiddler-singer Elana James, guitarist-singer Whit Smith and bassist-singer Jake Erwin is evident throughout, a joyful camaraderie that also was a hallmark of the Texas Playboys’ appeal.


Smith has an easy, everyman voice not unlike that of Gene Autry (rather than the heroic tenor of that other icon of western music, Roy Rogers) and James too relies on her earnest sincerity instead of vocal pyrotechnics, which have little place in this straight-from-the-wide-open-plain music. They mix haunting instrumental readings of “Faded Love” and “Maiden’s Prayer” with bouncy signature tunes such as “Stay a Little Longer” and some cherry-picked gems including “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.”

Hot Club of Cowtown isn’t out to bowl listeners over with musical fireworks, but there are moments that might spur you to let loose with a hearty “Ah-haaaa!”

—Randy Lewis

Hot Club of Cowtown
“What Makes Bob Holler”
(Proper American)
Three stars (Out of four)