Tag Archives: Gypsy Jazz

Anne McCue: Blue Sky Thinkin’

AnneMcCue_BlueSkyThinkinAnne McCue swings

Anne McCue is better known for standing in front of guitars and drums than clarinets and brass. Her previous albums reached back to the gutsy sound of 1970s rock vocalists, as well as contemporaries like Sam Phillips and Lucinda Williams; her latest reaches back several more decades, to the sounds of the 1930s. There’s always been a bluesy edge to her singing, and here those notes consort with the roots of swing and gypsy jazz. McCue dials down the ferocity of her vocals to an era-appropriate slyness, picks terrific figures on her guitar, and perhaps most impressively of all, writes songs that bid to fill some blank pages in the great American songbook.

Drummer Dave Raven nails the era’s blood-pumping excitement with Krupa-styled tom-toms on the opening “Dig Two Graves,” Deanie Richardson’s fiddle provides a superb foil for McCue’s six string swing, and Jim Hoke’s clarinet and horn chart fills in the period detail. The song’s bouncy tempo camouflages lyrics of noirish revenge, with San Francisco fog cloaking fatalistic fortunes. McCue turns to folk-blues with the finger-picked renewal of “Spring Cleaning in the Wintertime” and the old-timey “Cowgirl Blues.” She turns into a charming, coquettish chanteuse for “Long Tall Story,” and gets slinky, ala Peggy Lee, on the double bass and finger-snapping “Save a Life.”

Within the realm of swinging beats, McCue’s songs are quite diverse, ranging from the rockabilly “Little White Cat” to the fiery tango “Uncanny Moon.” There’s a nostalgic jazz core to the album, but it’s embroidered with elements of New Orleans funk, New York sophistication, big band rhythms, sinuous blues, stage flair and lyric craft. Dave Alvin guests as vocalist on the Cab Calloway-styled “Devil in the Middle,” and the album’s lone-cover, Regis McNichols Jr.’s contemporary “Knock on Wood,” fits perfectly with the standards vibe. McCue’s virtuosity is no surprise, but the ease with which she’s absorbed and restated the beating heart of swing music is impressive and thrilling. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Anne McCue’s Home Page

Hot Club of Cowtown: Rendezvous in Rhythm


Austin swing trio pays tribute to their gypsy-jazz roots

Austin’s Hot Club of Cowtown has been mixing Western Swing and Gypsy Jazz since their inception in 1997. This lineup solidified in 2000, and though they split briefly in 2005, their careers continued to intertwine even as they explored separate pursuits. Reuniting in 2008, the band picked up where they left off, mixing covers and originals, and continuing to grow more adept at both writing their own material and interpreting that of others. In 2011 they paid tribute to half their roots with the Bob Wills tribute, What Makes Bob Holler, and their latest follows up with a salute to the other half, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s Quintette du Hot Club de France.

The fourteen tracks focus on popular songs, show tunes and folk melodies that became jazz standards in 1930s Paris. The selections include the evergreens “I’m in the Mood for Love,” “Crazy Rhythm,” and “If I Had You” (accidentally attributed as Irving Berlin’s like-titled composition), as well as a driving take on Reinhardt and Grappelli’s “Minor Swing” and several lesser-known tunes. The group displays their virtuosity both individually and as a trio, breaking out for solos and effortlessly weaving back together into tight improvisations. Elana James and Whit Smith each sing charmingly, Smith with more of a period style, but they also step into the spotlight with their fiddle and guitar to voice instrumental versions of “Dark Eyes,” “I’m Confessin'” and “Sunshine of Your Smile.”

The set focuses primarily on songs written in the 1920 and 30s, but reaches back to the early twentieth century for “Melancholy Baby” (reportedly first sung in public by William Frawley, later of I Love Lucy fame) and the British “Sunshine of Your Smile.” The song list also pulls in Reinhardt’s 1947 instrumental “Douce Ambiance” and Frank Loesser’s even more recent, 1948 that is, “Slow Boat to China.” It’s nice to hear the band indulge their jazz roots, particularly in this live acoustic setting; but the earthier spark of their western repertoire has always given their standards a kick, and is missed, even as their continental sounds enchant. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Hot Club of Cowtown’s Home Page

Black Prairie: Feast of the Hunters’ Moon

Three Decemberists (plus two) add folk, gypsy and classical flavors

This release debuts the collaboration of three Decemberists (instrumentalist Chris Funk, bassist Nat Query and accordionist Jenny Conlee) and two players from the Portland scene (violinist/vocliast Annalisa Tornfelt and guitarist Jon Neufeld). Though the instruments are mostly common to Sugar Hill’s bluegrass and string bands, the results are quite different. Tornfelt’s violin slashes and haunts and together with Chris Funk’s bazouki and Conlee’s accordion adds gypsy touches to several songs. Tornfelt can also bow with the ferocity of a classical player and with Conlee and Neufelt creates a fetching invitation to the floor in “Tango Oscuro.” Two traditional numbers (the moody “Red Rocking Chair” and the atmospheric closer, “Blackest Crow”) are interspersed among mostly instrumental originals. The group gets downright rootsy on “Home Made Lemonade,” but it’s one of only a few tunes that will remind you this is released by Sugar Hill. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Red Rocking Chair
Black Prairie’s Home Page
Black Prairie’s MySpace Page

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]

MP3 | Sunday Morning
The Belleville Outfit’s Home Page
The Belleville Outfit’s MySpace Page