Tall Tales

The Hot Club Of Cowtown

Hightone Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/10/1999

Back in October, when I reviewed Swingin' Stampede, the debut disc from The Hot Club Of Cowtown, I questioned whether this band could really be called Western swing jazz. With the exception of some of the guitar riffs from Whit Smith, what I was hearing was definitely Western swing, but not too much jazz.

Now, less than a year later, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Smith, violinist/vocalist Elana Fremerman and bassist/vocalist Billy Horton return with their follow-up album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tall Tales, a disc that sharpens the sound they created for themselves and sets them apart as one of the leading bands playing a more traditional kind of country music these days.

Like the last time, you really do need to have an appreciation for country music going into this disc... and I ain't talkin' Garth Brooks. I hear this trio perform, and my mind travels back to the days of Hank Williams, Sr., when country was a developing form of music past what the movie cowboys would sing. But if you're more into the modern country music, this might take a little time to adjust to.

Musically, the disc takes the foundation they built and improves upon it. There is more confidence in both the songwriting and the performance of songs like "Draggin' The Row," "Darling You And I Are Through" and "Bonaparte's Retreat". If Swingin' Stampede was the definition of their sound, Tall Tales is the declaration of their musical independence.

Smith still doesn't get too many chances to really let loose on his six-string, but when he does, he proves that he is both a talented and versatile guitarist. Fremerman's vocals and violin work are unique and needed building blocks to the band's sound, though I'll admit I still am not the biggest fan of "fiddle" work. Sorry, dear, but in my two-volt brain, I'll always hear the violin as a tool of Vivaldi than hoedowns.

Tracks like "Emily," "Polkadots And Moonbeams" and "Joe Bob Rag" help to make Tall Tales an experience you'll want to relive over and over again. There still is a little room to grow with this band, and I don't think they have achieved their level of greatness just yet. But they're inching closer with each album - and if this band were to get the right breaks, they might represent a new wave in country music.

Tall Tales is a nice improvement over The Hot Club Of Cowtown's last album - and that's no lie.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hightone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.