The Belleville Outfit: Time to Stand

belleville stand coverGypsy jazz, blue swing and country harmony

Though the Belleville Outfit makes their home in Austin, Texas, three of the members originally hail from South Carolina, and two more were drawn from school connections in New Orleans. Only violinist Phoebe Hunt is an Austin native (and a UT graduate to boot!), and the Southern roots help account for the original flavor in the band’s swing, particularly in Rob Teter’s pinched, Satchmo-style vocals. Along with the long-running Hot Club of Cowtown, this sextet has become one of Austin’s foremost proponents of gypsy jazz. The group hots things up with Reinhardt-influenced guitar runs and dramatic Grapelli-like violin flurries, but they also pick more ruminative mid-tempo blues, add keyboards (piano, B3 and Rhodes), vary their vocals from sly old-timey to fetching country harmonies, and make room for a few instrumental string jams.

As on last year’s debut, the group’s written most of the songs, adding covers of the Louis Prima/Keely Smith hit “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby” and an up-tempo take on Walter Hyatt’s “Outside Looking Out.” The originals strike immediately with their melodic and instrumental complexity, but themes of falling, being in, running from, lamenting and losing love provide Teter and Hunt words over which to stretch their solo and harmony vocals. The jazzier tracks have a cool-cat hipness that’s balanced by earthier harmonies on the country tunes. The group’s hot-picking is impressive, but the mid-tempo twang of “Safe” and countrypolitan harmony of “Will This End in Tears” are equally fetching. The album closes with the uncharacteristically pop production of “Love Me Like I Love You,” suggesting the Belleville Outfit has a lot of musical range yet to explore. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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