The Deal: Cowgirl Gypsy jazz-infused western swing.
The Good: For nearly eight years, Elana James rode the range as the fiddlin third of the Hot Club of Cowtown. When the band broke up in 2004, Dylan tapped her as the first female instrumentalist in 30 years to join his band to tour ballparks with him and Willie. On her self-titled debut, James sings like Deana Carter channeling Billie Holliday on horseback. Duke Ellingtons I Got It Bad And That Aint Good features a breathless, sophisticated delivery suitable for a late-night, smoky jazz club. Ragtime piano composer Eubie Blakes Memories of You is delivered with a sultry vocal that would seem more at home with a cocktail piano than a fiddle, but James makes it mesh. All The World and I sounds for all the world like an outtake from a Carter Family album, complete with Mother Maybelles autoharp. When she picks up the fiddle, she echoes Bob Wills fiddler Johnny Gimble with a touch of Djangos gypsy jazz. She even tackles Gimbles arrangement of Silver Bells, swinging it as easily as the nimble Gimble, who costars with her on the cut.
The Bad: Theres nothing bad to report here. No matter what your genre preference, theres plenty to keep you entertained. Though James is rooted in western swing, shes plenty flexible bending those roots into jazz and country. Her smooth, cocktail-hour vocals settle you back comfortably in your chair after a gallop along the fenceline with Django and Gimble.
The Verdict: No matter what your trip, Elana James is a good ride-along companion.