Album Review: What Makes Bob Holler by The Hot Club of Cowtown
Great, Based on 5 Critics
The Guardian - 80 Based on rating 4/5
Bob Wills was one of the great innovators of American popular music, a fiddle player and bandleader from Texas who mixed his country music roots with anything from jazz and blues to sentimental ballads, and became the undisputed king of western swing in the 1930s and 40s. Today, he's the "foremost influence and inspiration" for the Hot Club of Cowtown, a trio that started out in New York, took their name from the Hot Club of France, but have become global ambassadors for western swing. Their last album was an exercise in sophistication and versatility, with echoes of Gypsy jazz mixed with Indian influences or Gershwin, but now they have gone back to basics.
Hot Club of Cowtown have never been strangers to covering older songs. Their sound, a seamless blend of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli-style hot jazz and Bob Wills-style western swing, means that they can mix originals and covers and never feel like they’re leaving a sepia-toned past. Usually, you can count on a few covers on their records.
It's hard to imagine why it's taken the Hot Club of Cowtown so long to record a tribute album to Bob Wills. Their Django-meets-Wills style makes the idea a natural, and when they've covered Wills in the past -- either tunes he wrote or tunes associated with the Texas Playboys -- they've always brought a modern sensibility to the tunes that makes them sound brand new. As a trio, they have to be resourceful to get the kind of full sound Wills got with his ensemble, but they're up to the task.
Isn't every Hot Club of Cowtown disc a tribute to Bob Wills? In a way, but What Makes Bob Holler also prompts the local trio to these 14 tunes from the King of Western swing's Tiffany Transcriptions era with extraordinary results. Captured live sans overdubs, Austin's HCOCT shows off its impeccable musicianship and a singular ability to set toes to tapping with just Elana James' hot fiddle, Whit Smith's slinky guitar, and the thumping stand-up bass of Jake Erwin. Some choices – "Big Ball in Cowtown," "Faded Love," "Stay a Little Longer" – are obvious.
Austin is known for a lot of great acts that have achieved international acclaim, but even more that most people don’t get much exposure to. One of those is the Hot Club of Cowtown, a trio that seamlessly blends the jazz sensibilities of Reinhardt and Grappelli’s Hot Club of France with the Western swing feel of the King of Western Swing himself, Bob Wills. On What Makes Bob Holler, the Hot Club of Cowtown turns in its versions of 14 songs once covered by, and some written by, Wills with his Texas Playboys, on what will be one of the albums to beat this year in the ever-expanding Americana field.