Elana James: Black Beauty

ElanaJames_BlackBeautyA fiddler’s longing and guilty pleasures

James has made a name writing, singing and playing a unique combination of hot jazz and Western Swing with Austin’s Hot Club of Cowtown. Though known primarily for her virtuosity as a fiddler, her voice, much like fellow instrumental prodigy Alison Krauss, has always held special qualities. Her self-titled 2007 solo album combined the same talents she’d leveraged in Hot Club – fiddle, voice and songwriting – but in a wider context that glimpsed her influences through the selection of cover songs. Eight years later, her second album expands on the same premise, weaving together originals, instrumentals (“Eva’s Dance” and “Waltz of the Animals”), and a selection of covers that spans jazz (“All I Need is You”), folk (“Hobo’s Lullaby”), counterculture classics (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and “Ripple”), ‘70s novelty (“Telephone Man”) and even ‘80s synthpop (“Only You”).

Impressively, James brings this wide range of material under one tent. Her plucked violin opens the album in place of Vince Clark’s synthesizer for Yazoo’s “Only You,” with a double-tracked vocal that’s lighter than Alison Moyet’s original. The song’s mood of longing is a fitting introduction to James’ originals, which include the unbreakable hold of “High Upon the Mountains” and the second-thoughts of “Reunion (Livin’ Your Dream).” The latter might have been the album’s most poignant moment, had James not turned a letter from a U.S. soldier into the eulogy “Hey Beautiful: Last Letter from Iraq.” Setting the words of Staff Sgt. Juan Campos to music, James evinces a longing for home that’s beyond homesickness, and in it’s true-to-life source, beyond the craft of lyric writing. It’s a touching complement to James’ original songs and the revelations she offers through her selection of covers. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Elana James’ Home Page

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